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TPWD News Release — Feb. 7, 2005

Public Meetings Set To Discuss Lesser Prairie Chickens

LUBBOCK, Texas — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is hosting a series of meetings in the Texas Panhandle and South Plains regions in early March to discuss lesser prairie chicken conservation and management with landowners and others.

These meetings will be held prior and in addition to the TPWD regulatory meetings that are scheduled for later in March to discuss broader wildlife regulations proposals for the next hunting and fishing season.

"Lesser prairie chickens are a part of Texas’ natural heritage, and an important component of our short and mid-grass prairie habitats," said Heather Whitlaw, TPWD wildlife biologist in Lubbock.

"However, the lesser prairie chicken is being considered for listing as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and is thus the focus of restoration efforts in the five states where it occurs. Private landowners, biologists, and other interested parties in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, and Texas are all working toward achieving lesser prairie chicken restoration. Having a proactive approach and developing partnerships with those who own and manage private land is good natural resource management."

Without the help of private landowners to restore and improve habitats, Whitlaw said lesser prairie chickens will likely continue to decline and may eventually be listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Lesser prairie chicken populations and range have been declining in Texas for several decades. Changes in land use in the Texas Panhandle and areas of the South Plains where lesser prairie chickens historically occurred have likely reduced the amount of habitat available to the species.

"Lesser prairie chickens need large expanses of native range and grasslands that are interspersed with certain percentages of shrubs for cover, and forbs and bare ground for insect production" said Whitlaw. "When large areas of native habitat are lost or fragmented by other land uses, the ability of the land to support healthy wildlife populations, including lesser prairie chickens, is reduced."

Private landowners and the general public are invited to the public meetings to get information and provide input on programs and incentives that are available for managing lesser prairie chickens and the habitats they rely upon. Private landowners will also be asked for their input about what they might be willing to do to help in this effort, including considering modifications to current land management practices that would improve habitat for lesser prairie chickens and other grassland-dependent species.

Many state and federal agencies have incentive programs in place to help private landowners improve and restore wildlife habitat on the properties they manage. In addition to TPWD staff, personnel from the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, Texas Cooperative Extension, and local RC&Ds will be invited to attend the public meetings to discuss programs and incentives for habitat improvement and restoration.

All meetings start at 7 p.m.