EMPORIA –-(Ammoland.com)- Landowner/producers can apply to enroll their land in the Lesser-prairie Chicken Conservation Program through Feb 28, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA). Those with land in the lesser prairie-chicken range willing to implement conservation practices beneficial to lesser-prairie chickens are eligible. Landowner/producers who are accepted will receive a sign-up incentive and payments for implementing conservation practices designed to maximize the value of their property to lesser-prairie chicken. Those practices include mechanical brush removal, prescribed grazing, and establishment and management of planted native grass stands. Only producers not currently enrolled in federal farm bill programs will be eligible to apply for five- and 10-year contract options.
The WAFWA will rank applications based on their value to lesser prairie-chickens and select the highest ranking offers for enrollment. Accepted landowner/producers located in the high-priority locations can receive payments of up to 125 percent of the estimated cost of implementing the conservation plan. If the species becomes federally listed, participating producers will be exempt from the take prohibition of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) if the take occurs while implementing the practices prescribed in their conservation plan. Producers who are interested in the program should contact their local state wildlife agency office for more details or to complete an application.
After the sign-up period is complete, the WAFWA will also be developing similar conservation plans for producers who just want to be exempted from the take prohibitions of the ESA. The management prescriptions in these plans won’t be as conservative, and landowners won’t receive payment for implementing them. However, if the species is listed, any take that occurs while implementing the prescribed practices will be exempt from the take prohibitions of the ESA. Producers interested in this type of conservation plan should also contact their local state wildlife agency.
The WAFWA consists of 23 state and provincial wildlife agencies that have primary responsibility and authority for protecting and managing fish and wildlife in the western United States and Canada. The state wildlife agencies in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado are members of the WAFWA. Through the WAFWA, those five state wildlife agencies worked cooperatively over the last two years to produce the Lesser-prairie Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan (RWP) as a means to preclude a federal listing of the species under the ESA.
On October 23, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) endorsed the RWP as “a comprehensive conservation plan that reflects sound conservation design and strategy that, when implemented, will provide a net conservation benefit to the lesser prairie-chicken.”
To date, the RWP is the only plan that has been endorsed by the USFWS and is the only pathway that has the potential to lead to a not warranted final decision. The amount of voluntary enrollment in the RWP will likely weigh heavily into the final listing decision that must be announced by the end of March.
This map depicts the area of eligibility for the WAFWA lesser prairie chicken conservation program. Offers received from focal areas and connectivity zones will receive higher priority in the application process.