Follow live as group in eastern New Mexico fights to save lesser prairie chicken habitat

Published By: Adrian Hedden Carlsbad Current-Argus

April 7th, 2021

A wild chicken native to the deserts and plains of eastern New Mexico was at the center of a debate on land management, encroachment on wildlife and the environmental protections.

The lesser prairie chicken became imperiled as its habitat shrunk from a widespread historic range spreading from New Mexico through Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas. Conservationists struggled to save the chicken, known for its unique mating rituals and in need of wide open spaces to form breeding groups known as leks in the scenic terrain of America’s western plains.

Through partnerships between private landowners, government agencies and conservation groups, the imperiled bird could see solace in the coming years.

Groups already petitioned the federal government to list the lesser prairie chicken as endangered, but through the partnerships many hope a listing could be avoided and the animal could be saved.

Many contended the health of the bird could be an indication of the health of the land.


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“What Do Birds and Beef Have In Common?” TED Talk

Grassland birds are some of the most imperiled in the world. In fact, the latest science shows a 53 percent reduction in grassland bird populations since 1970—that’s more than 720 million birds. With an estimated 90 percent of North America’s grasslands owned or managed by ranchers, Johnson realized that farmers and consumers can be a part of the solution to this bird crisis.


Audit reveals abuse in program to help lesser prairie chicken, industry coexist

The robust analysis revealed WAFWA abused a portion of $30 million set aside by private investors for chicken habitat in Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. The organization fell short in serving interests of energy, farming and livestock producers eager to coexist with the prairie chicken and prevent it from returning to the federal threatened species list, the audit said.



Jun 6, 2020

The Morning Sun

Audit finds ‘inappropriate’ handling of funds for lesser prairie chicken conservation

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By: Kendra Chamberlain
The NM Political Report

Published: May 6, 2020
Copyright © 2020 The NM Political Report

A conservation program that industry groups and landowners hoped would keep the lesser prairie chicken off the federal Endangered Species Act list has fallen short of its conservation mission and wasted millions in the process, according to an independent audit of the program.

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Long-buried audit finds misuse of protection funds

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Scott Streater, E&E News reporter
E&E News

Published: Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Copyright © 2020 Environment & Energy Publishing

The nonprofit group charged with carrying out a mostly voluntary federal recovery strategy for the imperiled lesser prairie chicken has mishandled funds meant to protect the bird, spending large sums on an office building and staff salaries instead of conservation, according to an internal audit that suggests the program should be terminated.

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What’s next for the prairie chicken?

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Albuquerque Journal

Published: Sunday, February 23rd, 2020
Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Lesser prairie chickens have a flair for the dramatic. During mating season on the grasslands of eastern New Mexico, the male bird puffs out its chest, inflates colorful air sacs and fans out its feathers as it struts across the plains. That drama is echoed in the debate over how to save the bird from extinction.

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Lesser Prairie Chicken program undergoing changes

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The Oklahoman

Published: Sun, February 16, 2020 1:06 AM
Copyright © 2020 The Oklahoman


The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies promotes the region’s outdoorsman lifestyle.

It also helps manage various species of North American wildlife, either to keep them off or to help them leave protected and endangered lists set by the federal government.

Recently, questions have circulated about whether the association itself or a program it operates to preserve habitats for the lesser prairie chicken in Oklahoma and surrounding states might be in danger of disappearing…

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Little grouse on the prairie

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Albuquerque Journal

Published: Sunday, January 12th, 2020 at 11:19pm
Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The lesser prairie chicken is an icon of the flat grasslands of eastern New Mexico. But the bird’s habitat is dwindling, thanks to overgrazing, drought and energy development.

Now, Lost Draw Ranch, a cattle operation south of Portales, will adopt practices to protect the prairie chicken.

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Hunters meet in South Dakota to discuss grouse conservation

Nick Lowery, Capital Journal
Nov 9, 2017

The basic idea of a conservation bank is to use private-investor money to help pay a landowner enough that it becomes a good financial decision to set aside prime habitat for wildlife such as the lesser prairie chicken. Once the land is set aside, the investor can turn around and sell conservation credits to developers so they can develop energy resources. This keeps at least some habitat on the ground and gives landowners another way to make money.


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Ecological Service Partners Secures $250 Million Equity Commitment

DALLAS & WASHINGTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Ecological Service Partners, LLC (“ESP”) announced it has secured a $250 million equity commitment from its financial partners. The new equity will support ESP’s activities in large-scale ecological restoration of damaged wetlands, streams and habitats for endangered species, as well as in enhancing water quality for offsets to nutrient impacts. With $250 million of committed equity capital, ESP is now one of the best capitalized operators in the ecological service market, enabling ESP to restore thousands of acres of wetlands and hundreds of miles of impacted streams. ESP will also opportunistically pursue strategic acquisitions in the US…


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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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.