Enviros seek emergency lesser prairie chicken protections

Scott Streater, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, September 8, 2016

 

A coalition of environmental groups today asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to reverse course and list the lesser prairie chicken as an endangered species in need of immediate federal protection to survive.

The 161-page petition filed by WildEarth Guardians, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity asks for Endangered Species Act protections for the total lesser prairie chicken population, which was removed in July from the ESA list following a federal court order.

But for two distinct population segments — the shinnery oak prairie segment along the Texas-New Mexico border and the sand sagebrush prairie segment in Colorado and western Kansas — the groups want the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue an “emergency” endangered listing “at the soonest possible time.”

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FWS unveils listing plan through 2023

Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, September 1, 2016

 

The Fish and Wildlife Service today unveiled which rare animals and plants it will consider adding to the endangered or threatened species lists over the next seven years.

The listing plan is based on a new methodology for organizing the status reviews of hundreds of species. The highest priority was given to species that appear to be critically imperiled; the lowest went to those for which there are limited data available.

Among the first species to be considered for new or additional protections are the lesser prairie chicken, which an oil industry trade group successfully sued to have removed from the threatened list in 2014, and the threatened northern spotted owl, which could be uplisted to endangered and pose new challenges for Northwest timber companies. Meanwhile, the wide-ranging Western bumble bee and the little brown bat are a couple of the species closely watched by industry that FWS does not plan to review for listing until 2023.

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FWS backs prairie chicken plan of tax-troubled nonprofit

Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter
Published: Monday, August 1, 2016

 

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and a related foundation had been stripped of their nonprofit statuses for repeatedly failing to file annual tax forms when the Fish and Wildlife Service in October 2013 endorsed their blueprint for protecting the lesser prairie chicken, according to IRS records reviewed by Greenwire.

Since then, tax documents show that WAFWA — whose former treasurer may have broken the law by working concurrently at FWS — has received more than $2.2 million from the Interior Department, the service’s parent agency.

While the nonprofit tax exemptions of WAFWA and its Foundation for Western Fish and Wildlife (FWFW) were retroactively restored by the IRS in the fall of 2014, the failure to file years’ worth of forms on time before then could have cost the groups almost $300,000 in fines.

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FWS plucks federal protections from lesser prairie chicken

Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter
Published: Tuesday, July 19, 2016

 

The Fish and Wildlife Service is formally removing the lesser prairie chicken from the list of threatened species, a move required by a recent court order.

But the agency is leaving the door open to potentially restoring Endangered Species Act protections for the imperiled member of the prairie grouse family.

“Responding to this court ruling by removing the bird from the Federal List does not mean we are walking away from efforts to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken. Far from it,” FWS Director Dan Ashe said in a statement today.

“We are undertaking a new status review to determine whether listing is again warranted, and we will continue to work with our state partners and others on efforts to protect vital habitat and ensure this flagship of the prairies survives well into the future,” he added.

Federal protections for the bird will end tomorrow, when the final delisting rule is published in the Federal Register. At that point, the prairie chicken will be dropped from both the threatened list and the list of candidate species, for which protections are warranted but precluded by more pressing priorities.

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First Free Market LPC Credit Sale

JULY 2016, TEXAS — Tomahawk CB, LLC, an LPCC and RiverBank Conservation, LLC partnership, closed the nation’s first free market based Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC) conservation credit sale in July. The Tomahawk Conservation Bank (“Tomahawk”) transaction permanently protected 1,535-acres of native rangeland in Yoakum County, Texas. As a result, the LPC will always have protected and managed habitat, and two families will forever keep their ranches intact while preserving their agricultural uses and character.

Kirk Williams, a member of the Williams Family Ranch stated, “As a third generation steward of our land, the conservation easement for the LPC is a great way to provide habitat for the LPC and improve livestock grazing potential over time.  It allows for the continued ownership and careful use of the land with safeguards for the future. ”

Tomahawk’s conservation easements are held by Texas Agricultural Land Trust (TALT) of San Antonio, Texas. TALT’s mission is to “conserve the Texas heritage of agricultural lands, wildlife habitats and natural resources”. TALT is also holding Tomahawk’s non-wasting endowment to fund the conservation bank’s long-term management plan. These funds will ensure LPC habitat is monitored and managed in perpetuity to maximize its benefit for the species.

Future sales from the Tomahawk Conservation Bank will fund the protection and partial restoration of an additional 1200 acres on these two historic Texas ranches.

Regulators sound alarm as prairie chicken numbers plunge

Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, July 1, 2016

LINK TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE

 

A coalition of state wildlife regulators today announced that the population of lesser prairie chickens in the wild has fallen by more than 13 percent since the last annual aerial survey — a troubling outcome the Obama administration predicted earlier this year.

There is now an estimated breeding population of 25,261 birds, down from 29,162 at the same point last year, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, or WAFWA (Greenwire, June 26, 2015).

The decline ends a two-year streak of population increases and comes after the Obama administration lost a pair of legal challenges that sought to reinstate Endangered Species Act protections for the bird, which today survives on just 12 percent of its historical range.

Found in four eco-regions across Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, prairie chickens have been harmed by development and a 2012 drought that reduced their population from around 34,000 birds to just over 17,600.

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Former FWS official held $375K side job with state group

Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, June 8, 2016

 

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

A top Fish and Wildlife Service official appears to have violated federal law by working a side job as treasurer of a state wildlife regulators group that works closely with the agency, according to the Interior Department watchdog.

Stephen Barton, the service’s former chief of administration and information management for wildlife and sport fish restoration, repeatedly failed to disclose that the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) paid him more than $375,000 over seven years for his services — another potentially criminal act, the Office of Inspector General said in a report released yesterday.

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Investigative Report of Failure to Disclose Employment at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Published: June 7, 2016

“In March 2014, this office gained information from a DOI-OIG investigation that Stephen M. Barton, Chief, Administration and Information Management, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR), served as treasurer for the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) from around 2004 to early 2014, while also serving as a FWS employee between September 2007 to the present. The same investigation revealed that FWS had awarded WAFWA around $3 million in grants and cooperative agreements…” Read the Official Report Here

 

Obama admin drops bid to restore prairie chicken protections

Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, May 12, 2016

 

The Obama administration this week gave up its legal push to reinstate protections for the lesser prairie chicken, a move that was celebrated by conservative lawmakers and lamented by environmentalists.

The Department of Justice filed a motion Tuesday with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the administration’s challenge of a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Judge Robert Junell’s decision last year overturned a regulation issued in spring 2014 by the Fish and Wildlife Service that added the imperiled member of the grouse family to the threatened species list in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. The case against the listing was brought by the Texas Permian Basin Petroleum Association and three oil-rich New Mexico counties.

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Lesser prairie-chicken numbers are up. Is it good conservation or just good weather?

By ERIC HOLST
Published: APRIL 12, 2016

LINK

 

Recent media reports have touted population rebounds for the lesser prairie-chicken – up 25 percent from last year. That’s great news for the bird, which was nearly wiped out in recent years as booming oil and gas industries encroached on the bird’s range across Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bird as “threatened” in March 2015, at the same time that the five states embarked on a conservation plan of their own. The plan was officially assembled and endorsed by the five members of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA).

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State effort struggles to buy prairie chicken habitat

Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, April 1, 2016

 

A state-led effort to offset the impacts of development on the lesser prairie chicken continues to struggle with purchasing permanent conservation areas for the bird, according to an annual report released yesterday by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

In its second year implementing a rangewide plan that seeks to conserve the lesser prairie chicken with voluntary cooperation of landowners and industry, WAFWA secured its first permanent conservation site.

These strongholds of 25,000 to 50,000 acres of permanently conserved land are needed to “support viable [lesser prairie chicken] populations,” the rangewide plan said. The 2013 document set a goal of establishing “one or more strongholds” in each of the four eco-regions in which the bird is found and offsetting 25 percent of the acreage affected by development with permanent conservation.

But WAFWA reported yesterday that it has permanently conserved a 1,604-acre track of Texas native rangeland, which represents 10 percent of the habitat used for oil and gas development, wind turbines or other developments.

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$2B in private investment, new Interior center chief announced

Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter
Published: Monday, March 7, 2016

Nearly a dozen private-sector groups at a White House roundtable today announced more than $2 billion worth of investments to protect land, water and wildlife.

The Interior Department also named the first leader of its new Natural Resource Investment Center (NRIC), an organization created to promote habitat conservation, water conservation and water infrastructure. As executive director, Jeffrey Klein — who spent decades on Wall Street before moving to a nonprofit — will work to secure additional conservation commitments from the private sector.

The biggest commitments were made by NatureVest, Resource Environmental Solutions and Ecosystem Investment Partners.

NatureVest, an investment unit of the environmental group the Nature Conservancy, announced 10 investments totaling over $400 million across four continents. Additionally, the group is set to launch a water fund of just over $19 million in the Murray-Darling Basin of Australia that seeks to balance environmental and agricultural interests.

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States fire head of crucial prairie chicken program

Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter
Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2016

 

Even as a federal district judge yesterday rejected the Fish and Wildlife Service’s request to reinstate federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken, state wildlife regulators fired the man in charge of the plan the judge had instead favored to recover the imperiled bird.

Until yesterday, Cal Baca was the lesser prairie chicken program manager at the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), a coalition of regulators from 23 states and Canadian provinces that created a rangewide plan meant to prevent the need to protect the bird under the Endangered Species Act.

After FWS added the prairie chicken to the threatened species list in 2014, the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and a handful of oil-rich New Mexico counties challenged the decision. They argued that FWS should have given the states’ rangewide plan more time to work before listing the species.

Last year, Judge Robert Junell of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas agreed with the challenge led by the oil trade group, vacating the agency’s listing decision. Then yesterday, he rejected a request by FWS to reinstate federal protections for the bird (E&ENews PM, Feb. 29).

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How Markets Can Restore Louisiana’s Marshes

Quin Hillyer, Wall Street Journal
Published: Dec. 25, 2015

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Feds blast ‘unsuccessful’ plan to save prairie chicken

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, December 23, 2015

 

A states-led plan to save the lesser prairie chicken’s vanishing strutting grounds “simply has been unsuccessful” at safeguarding the bird’s most important habitat, Justice Department attorneys told a federal district court in Midland, Texas, last week.

It was the federal government’s latest — and most aggressive — plea yet for Judge Robert Junell to reconsider his September decision to vacate Endangered Species Act protections for the bird across its 40-million-acre homeland in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado.

At issue is Junell’s decision to toss the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision in 2014 to list the prairie chicken as threatened as drilling, wind farms, road building, grazing and plowing had destroyed 84 percent of its habitat (Greenwire, Sept. 3).

Junell ruled that FWS had failed to consider the extent to which a rangewide conservation plan crafted and administered by state wildlife agencies and supported by energy companies and landowners would ameliorate those threats.

Federal attorneys are now asking Junell to amend his ruling. Instead of vacating it, they want it remanded so Fish and Wildlife can make a new listing determination. In the absence of a listing, they have warned, energy companies and farmers are destroying the chicken’s habitat with impunity.

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Prairie chicken ruling tests strength of voluntary conservation

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, October 15, 2015

 

Will energy companies continue to protect habitat for a prairie grouse in the absence of government regulations?

That question is being put to the test after a federal district judge in West Texas last month decided to strip Endangered Species Act protections from the lesser prairie chicken in five southern Great Plains states.

If oil and gas, pipeline, wind, and transmission companies continue shelling out millions of dollars to offset harm to the chicken — though they are under no legal obligation to do so — it would prove, to many stakeholders, the merits of voluntary conservation plans that have been a key plank in the Obama administration’s wildlife policy.

But reneging on commitments made while the chicken was listed or on the road to a listing would embolden environmentalists who say locally led, voluntary conservation plans only work when the regulatory hammer of ESA remains on the table.

Companies have so far stayed the course, according to state and nonprofit wildlife officials.

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Prairie chicken ruling casts doubt on FWS listing policy

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, September 3, 2015

 

A judge’s decision Tuesday to strip federal protections from a prairie grouse that roams the southern Great Plains has thrown into question how the government considers voluntary conservation measures when issuing listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act.

The decision could influence how the Fish and Wildlife Service considers voluntary conservation programs in other high-profile listing decisions, such as the greater sage grouse.

The ruling by Judge Robert Junell of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas overturned the agency’s decision in spring 2014 to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, where the bird’s native grassland and prairie habitat had shrunk by 84 percent (E&ENews PM, March 27, 2014).

Legal experts said it’s quite rare for a federal court to overturn a FWS listing decision.

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Judge tosses FWS listing of lesser prairie chicken

Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, September 2, 2015

 

A federal judge threw out yesterday the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The March 2014 listing — the result of more than a decade of efforts by conservationists — was sharply criticized by agriculture and industry interests because the prairie chicken’s habitat spans farmland in five southern Great Plains states and includes the oil-rich Permian Basin (E&ENews PM, March 27, 2014).

Four New Mexico counties and the Permian Basin Petroleum Association challenged the listing in court, and yesterday Judge Robert Junell of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas sided with their arguments.

Junell held that FWS failed to follow its own regulations for considering ongoing conservation efforts for a species before listing it.

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Prairie chicken numbers jumped 25% over past year

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, June 26, 2015

 

The population of a federally threatened grouse in the southern Great Plains grew by about 25 percent over the past year, marking the second consecutive year of significant growth, according to the preliminary results of a helicopter survey.

The lesser prairie chicken now numbers about 29,000 birds total, said Bill Van Pelt, grasslands coordinator for the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which commissioned the survey.

The prairie chicken, known for its elaborate mating ritual, has risen from 18,747 birds in 2013 and 22,415 in 2014, according to WAFWA.

But numbers are still short of the estimated 34,000 birds counted in 2012 before a severe drought cut their population roughly in half.

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