Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Plan Nears 4 Million Acres, Industry Enrollment Provides Nearly $21 Million for Habitat Conservation
Thirty-two private companies in five states representing oil and gas, pipelines, electric transmission and wind energy have committed to enroll nearly 4 million acres in the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan, providing about $21 million for habitat conservation over three years. The latest enrollment surge comes a week before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deadline to announce a final decision on whether to list the bird under the federal Endangered Species Act, expected by March 31.
Enrolling companies get regulatory assurances through a special USFWS rule or a CCAA permit, so that if the species is listed the companies have a pathway to continue operations and development in the region. The companies agree to pay modest enrollment fees, follow a list of guidelines to minimize impacts on the bird, and agree to pay for impacts they cannot avoid. The money goes to farmers, ranchers and landowners to protect and restore habitat for the bird.
“The range-wide plan represents more than a pathway to mitigate industry impacts,” said Bill Van Pelt, grassland coordinator with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), which developed the range-wide plan working with state wildlife agencies in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, and others. “It also serves as a way to unify all existing lesser prairie-chicken programs under a common set of goals to conserve the species. Each of those programs have been successful in their own right.”
Van Pelt said those related efforts include the Conservation Reserve Program managed by the USDA Farm Service Agency (about 3.4 million acres across the bird’s range), Working Lands for Wildlife Program and Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative managed by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (about 800,000 acres), the New Mexico Candidate Conservation Agreement managed by the Center for Excellence in Hazardous Materials Management (about 1.5 million acres of industry enrollment and 1.5 million acres of ranching enrollment), and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAA) for farming and ranching in Oklahoma and Texas (about 820,000 acres).
“When considering these various programs together with recent enrollments in the range-wide plan,” said Van Pelt, “the total comes to nearly 13 million acres under conservation, equivalent to about 60 percent of the lesser prairie-chicken’s current range.”
Companies enrolling in the range-wide plan include American Electric Power; Apache Corporation; Central Valley Electric Cooperative, Inc.; COG Operating LLC; ConocoPhillips; Continental Resources, Inc.; Devon Energy Corporation; Energex LLC; EnerVest Operating LLC; Fasken Oil and Ranch, Ltd; Greenbelt Electric Cooperative, Inc.; Marathon Oil Corporation; MewBourne Oil Company; Northfork Electric Cooperative, Inc.; Northwestern Electric Cooperative, Inc.; Occidental Oil and Gas Corporation; Oklahoma Gas and Electric Energy Corporation; Peregrine Petroleum Partners, Ltd.; Prairie Wind Transmission LLC, a joint venture between Westar Energy and Electric Transmission America; QEP Resources Inc.; Roosevelt County Electric Cooperative; Samson Resources; Tri-County Electric Cooperative, Inc.; and Western Farmers Electric Cooperative. As a courtesy to enrolling companies, WAFWA is still contacting the remaining few not listed here for permission to announce their names.
Complementing the range-wide plan, landowner CCAAs offer legal assurances for farmers and ranchers in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. These cover a total of nearly 2.3 million acres across the three states. Landowners in Colorado and Kansas, who do not have access to a ranching CCAA, can enroll their lands under the range-wide plan and receive the same assurances.
The range-wide plan includes habitat management goals and conservation practices to be applied throughout the lesser prairie-chicken’s range, guided by the Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT) online database and mapping system.
The range-wide plan can be viewed on the WAFWA website. Industry representatives with questions about the plan may contact Sean Kyle, chairman of the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group, at firstname.lastname@example.org. New Mexico farmers, ranchers, and landowners with questions about enrollment in the plan please contact Grant Beauprez, lesser prairie-chicken biologist for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish at Grant.Beauprez@state.nm.us or (575) 478-2460.