TPWD Responds to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Decision to List the Lesser Prairie-Chicken
Dec. 21, 2022
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AUSTIN— Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) executive director David Yoskowitz, Ph.D. said Wednesday he applauds 16 years of “tremendous” voluntary collaboration with private landowners and industry to conserve lesser prairie-chicken habitat and reiterates the department’s opposition to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listing the species.
“This decision jeopardizes decades of voluntary conservation efforts, increases regulatory burden and does not assure recovery of the species,” Yoskowitz said.
USFWS published a final rule Nov. 25 listing the lesser prairie-chicken under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Once implemented in January, the decision would affect 14 counties in Texas, listing the bird as threatened in some and endangered in others.
“Notwithstanding this very unfortunate decision, TPWD stands committed to working with private landowners and industry to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken and its habitat, just as we have for decades,” Yoskowitz said.
The new USFWS designation comprises a Northern Distinct Population Segment (DPS), where the bird will be listed as threatened in seven counties in the northeast Texas Panhandle, and the Southern DPS, where the species will be listed as endangered in seven counties in the southwest Texas Panhandle. The listing under the ESA goes into effect Jan. 24, 2023 and makes “take” of lesser prairie-chickens or their habitat a federal violation. Take means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. Incidental take refers to takings that result from, but are not the purpose of, conducting an otherwise lawful activity.
Under the final USFWS ruling, a 4(d) rule for the Northern DPS provides for incidental take exemptions for routine agricultural activities on cultivated lands, prescribed grazing conducted under an approved plan and prescribed fire. Landowners in the northeast Texas Panhandle interested in receiving an approved prescribed grazing plan under the 4(d) rule should contact a USFWS-certified prescribed grazing planner to initiate enrollment into that plan. A list of FAQs and certified planners will be continuously updated and available at www.fws.gov/lpc, and a list of FAQs is available on the USFWS Lesser Prairie-Chicken Listing FAQs website.
In 2006, TPWD entered a 20-year Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) with USFWS to work with private landowners to manage and improve lesser prairie-chicken habitat in exchange for assurances that no additional regulatory burden would be placed on participants if the species were listed. The 91 properties currently enrolled in the program, which cover 649,780 acres across 19 Texas Panhandle counties, are exempt from take and habitat management restrictions while they operate under a TPWD-approved wildlife management plan.
Enrollment for the Texas lesser prairie-chicken CCAA program is open until the official effective date of Jan. 24, 2023. Private landowners within the lesser prairie-chicken range are encouraged to contact the TPWD Panhandle Wildlife District prior to the effective date to initiate the enrollment process.
“The CCAA provides landowners the assurances that they can continue to manage their properties to meet their goals while also benefiting the lesser prairie-chicken,” said John Silovsky, TPWD director of wildlife. “We appreciate the tremendous collaboration with private landowners during the past 16 years and we want to continue those important partnerships for the benefit of the lesser prairie-chicken habitat.”
In 2013, TPWD along with the state wildlife agencies for Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, developed the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Plan (RWP). The plan established population goals for four lesser prairie-chicken ecoregions and designated focal areas and connectivity zones to incentivize voluntary conservation for the species and its habitat.
Under the direction of WAFWA, the RWP also produced a CCAA for oil and gas companies to voluntarily mitigate for new development and operations across the species’ range. This CCAA provides funding to private landowners to improve or maintain lesser prairie-chicken habitat on their lands and provide a net conservation benefit to the species and regulatory certainty for industry.
Since then, USFWS has also approved an Oil & Gas Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and Renewables HCP that provide additional opportunities for industry to mitigate for the incidental take of the species.
Landowners or industries interested in the Texas Lesser Prairie-Chicken CCAA, industry CCAA or HCP options should contact Brad Simpson, TPWD Panhandle Wildlife District Leader, (806) 651-3012 email@example.com or Russell Martin, TPWD Panhandle Wildlife Diversity Biologist, (806) 452-9616 firstname.lastname@example.org.