The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced its initial listing decision for the lesser prairie chicken as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
This decision could trigger new scrutiny by state and federal wildlife agencies on permits and operations for energy developers and ranchers that could impact the bird’s habitat in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado – states that are prime grounds for oil, gas and wind development, as well as farming and ranching.
“In the past, these kinds of ESA listing decisions have led to years of litigation and conflict,” said David Festa, Vice President of the Land, Water and Wildlife program for Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “Now, with the lesser prairie chicken, we’re working with land users to set up Wildlife Habitat Exchanges that provide cooperative, cost-effective habitat conservation.”
EDF is working with landowners, developers and energy companies to design a new, cooperative approach to conservation that promises ample habitat protection at low cost – potentially enough habitat to reverse dwindling populations and avert a final listing under the law. This approach, known as Wildlife Habitat Exchanges, enlists private landowners like ranchers and farmers to create and maintain vital habitat, which energy companies and other developers can in turn use to meet their obligations to protect wildlife.
“There’s an energy boom in the West and Wildlife Habitat Exchanges allow for thoughtful, well-planned mitigation strategies that will result in measurable conservation benefits for wildlife species like the lesser prairie chicken,” said Eric Holst, senior director of EDF’s Working Lands program.
This cooperative approach is essential to achieving long-term results, as 90 percent of the bird’s habitat exists on private lands. Many states, farmers and ranchers are already throwing their weight behind the model: Texas used it to protect the golden cheeked warbler, and the Texas and Kansas Farm Bureaus want to see it used for the lesser prairie chicken.
“Habitat Exchanges are a smart solution for threatened species such as the lesser prairie chicken,” said Steve Swaffar of the Kansas Farm Bureau. “Exchanges deliver quantifiable measures of habitat and resources, at the same time giving private landowners an opportunity to derive income by providing for the specific needs of the species, and continue to use their property for agriculture production.”
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Agency has up to a year to make a final listing decision.
“EDF supports Wildlife Habitat Exchanges as a proven model that could change the trajectory of the lesser prairie chicken,” said Festa. “It can bring the species back from the brink and put it on a path toward recovery before the final listing decision is made.”
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