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.


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.


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.


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.


FWS allows drilling despite lack of prairie chicken habitat protections

Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter
Published: Tuesday, April 7, 2015


The Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to allow continued oil and gas drilling in areas of the southern Great Plains inhabited by the lesser prairie chicken, despite state wildlife officials’ failure to obtain required permanent conservation areas for the threatened species.

In a letter obtained by the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife, FWS Director Dan Ashe on March 31 signed off on a request by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) to effectively delay for two years a requirement that at least 25 percent of the mitigation land that the group secures to offset the impact of drilling be permanently conserved. Those long-term offsets protect larger areas and are more difficult to obtain from ranchers, farmers and other landowners.


Birds and bankers at risk in potential prairie chicken conservation delay

Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, March 27, 2015

When Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe visited Congress last week to justify his agency’s budget request, he repeatedly pointed to the importance of supporting innovative efforts to conserve imperiled animals.”In the Great Plains, we have a ground-breaking partnership with five range states that allowed us to list a species, the lesser prairie chicken, but to do that in a way that defers to the management of those five range states,” the FWS director told a House Appropriations subcommittee (E&E Daily, March 18).

“Is that worth an additional investment in our field capacity, to make those kind of partnerships happen and to ensure that they’re successful? I think that it is,” Ashe declared.

But environmental organizations and conservation investment groups aren’t so sure. They are warning that state wildlife managers are going to miss a key conservation deadline that was established when the lesser prairie chicken was added to the list of threatened species protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) a year ago (E&ENews PM, March 27).

The failure to meet the Sunday, March 30, deadline established in that listing could immediately put the partnership, the species and millions of dollars at risk, according to the environmentalists and investors. It could also, they say, limit the potential for FWS to apply the conservation model it pioneered with the lesser prairie chicken to recovering the greater sage grouse and other animals under threat.


Frequently Asked Questions: Lesser Prairie-Chicken Programmatic Conservation Bank Agreement

Repost from USFWS, March 24, 2015:

Q. What action is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) taking?

A. The Service has finalized a Programmatic Conservation Bank Agreement submitted by LPC Conservation LLC (Wayne Walker, Common Ground Capital) for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. The Service began working with LPC Conservation LLC, the Master Bank Sponsor for the Lesser Prairie- Chicken Programmatic Conservation Bank Agreement (LPC PCBA), in November 2013. This is the first Programmatic Conservation Bank to be approved by the Service.

The LPC PCBA will streamline the process of approval for individual bank parcels that serve to permanently conserve and manage lands for the benefit of the lesser prairie-chicken across the species range. The LPC PCBA is the umbrella that individual parcels will be approved under and that will provide available credits for purchase to developers that are impacting the lesser prairie-chicken or its habitat within the identified service areas. Landowners who voluntarily choose to conserve their lands in permanent conservation, through a conservation easement, will generate credits used to offset impacts elsewhere in the banks identified service area.

The Service is also announcing the inclusion of the first two parcels in the Programmatic Conservation Bank Agreement. The two parcels total approximately 29,082 acres and are located in Kansas, which is currently the state with the largest lesser prairie-chicken population.


Service Approves Lesser Prairie-Chicken Programmatic Conservation Bank

News Release from USFWS, March 24, 2015:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved LPC Conservation LLC (Wayne Walker, Common Ground Capital)’s Programmatic Conservation Bank for the lesser prairie-chicken. The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Programmatic Conservation Bank Agreement (LPC PCBA) is the first of its kind and will assist in the recovery of the lesser prairie-chicken while providing benefits to landowners who are interested in conserving their lands and to those undertaking projects that may impact the species. The first two LPC PCBA approved parcels, totaling approximately 29,082 acres, are located in Kansas, which is currently the state with the largest lesser prairie-chicken population.


Service Approves Industry Conservation Plan for the American Burying Beetle

Service Approves Industry Conservation Plan for the American Burying Beetle
Plan Provides Industry with Streamlined ESA Permitting Process For Oklahoma Projects

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) approved a plan to streamline the Endangered Species Act (ESA) permitting process for oil and gas activities that may result in take of the American burying beetle (ABB) in Oklahoma. The approved Industry Conservation Plan (ICP) provides industry with a mechanism to move forward with oil and gas projects in ABB habitat during the 2014 and 2015 ABB active season.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lists Lesser Prairie-Chicken as Threatened Species

and Finalizes Special Rule Endorsing Landmark State Conservation Plan

Special Rule Establishes Unprecedented Conservation Partnership with States to Provide Regulatory Certainty for Landowners and Businesses; Enables States to Maintain Lead Management for Conservation Efforts

In response to the rapid and severe decline of the lesser prairie-chicken, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced the final listing of the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as a final special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA that will limit regulatory impacts on landowners and businesses from this listing. Under the law, a “threatened” listing means the species is likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future; it is a step below “endangered” under the ESA and allows for more flexibility in how the Act’s protections are implemented.


Fight Over Declining Bird Highlights Debate Over Role Of Permanence In Mitigation

Original Article on Ecosystem Marketplace | Author: Kelli Barrett | LINK TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE

The Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a voluntary approach to conserving the habitat of the lesser prairie chicken. Proponents say a voluntary program will more easily adapt to climate change, but opponents say it lacks vigor and won’t really give the birds the protection they need. 


24 March 2014 | The lesser prairie chicken is in trouble. Its population has dropped by 50% since 2012, and less than 20,000 birds are left. All parties involved agree that some form of mitigation and conservation needs to happen, but mitigation bankers have slammed a proposal to make that mitigation voluntary even if the little grouse is listed as endangered. US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will make a decision on whether to officially list the prairie chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) at the end of this month. An ESA listing means federal protection for the species and its habitat, which complicates matters for landowners and energy interests. Loss of habitat from development is a prime reason the bird’s population is in decline.


Endangered American Burying Beetles Have New Home in Oklahoma

Mitigation challenges for Oil & Gas companies in Oklahoma gets a little easier with the USFWS approval of a new conservation bank for the American Burying Beetle.

By Common Ground Capital
Published: Monday, Feb. 24, 2014 – 8:44 am

EDMOND, Okla., Feb. 24, 2014 –/PRNewswire/ — The American Burying Beetle Conservation Bank (“ABBCB”) was approved by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) on February 21 to provide conservation credits across Eastern Oklahoma. The ABBCB will create approximately 700 turn-key conservation offsets for developers who need to mitigate damages to American Burying Beetle (“ABB”) habitat. The ABB has been listed as an Endangered Species by the USFWS since 1989.

The ABBCB provides a perpetual haven for American Burying Beetles under a 1600 acre permanent conservation easement, held by Land Legacy of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Common Ground Capital, LLC of Edmond, Oklahoma spearheaded the development of these projects with support from WLLL, LLC of Tyler, Texas. WLLL will manage the long-term stewardship of the property as well as the marketing and sales of the ABB credits. The ABB credits will provide offsets for impacts of the construction of projects under the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. Common Ground Capital is also developing a portfolio of Lesser Prairie Chicken (“LPC”) Conservation Banks currently totaling 80,000 acres across the southern plains in anticipation of providing credits for any regulatory outcome for the USFWS LPC listing decision in March.

Jon Dobson, Associate General Counsel, TransCanada, “We are extremely pleased in Common Ground/WLLL’s execution on both the Keystone McAlester Conservation Area in 2012 and now the ABBCB for the success on the first major conservation projects for the ABB in Oklahoma. TransCanada is proud to be a part of a successful partnership with CGC/WLLL & the USFWS using scientifically rigorous mitigation standards that have created a first class conservation project that will benefit the ABB in perpetuity in Oklahoma.”

About Common Ground Capital:
Common Ground Capital is currently focused on developing conservation banks for the American Burying Beetle in Oklahoma and the Lesser Prairie Chicken across the southern plains and seeks to provide solutions to complex challenges in the energy environment interface.

About WLLL:
WLLL is a major wetlands mitigation banker founded in Tyler Texas in 2008. WLLL is the Master Limited Partner in the Piney Woods Mitigation Bank in East Texas, the largest Wetlands bank in the US and Burleson Mitigation Bank located near the Dallas Ft. Worth Metroplex.

Contact Wayne Walker of Common Ground Capital, for more information: 405-596-9139.Contact Preston W. Smith of WLLL, LLC for information regarding ABB credit sales: 903-780-2102.

Texas, drillers gear up for long-term battle over endangered species

Copyright:  Energywire
By: Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter


HOUSTON — The state of Texas and other oil and gas industry supporters are advising energy companies to prepare for a decades-long fight over plant and animal conservation and the Endangered Species Act.

Next month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to make a decision on whether to list the lesser prairie chicken, a species inhabiting prime drilling land in the Texas Panhandle, as threatened or endangered. Industry opposes that move and is hoping to win over FWS with their own protection plan as they successfully did with the dunes sagebrush lizard in the West Texas oil patch.


Lesser prairie chicken losing ground in Texas, other states

By: MELINDA TAYLOR AND TIMOTHY MALE, Posted Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014


It’s been 40 years since a near-unanimous Congress passed the Endangered Species Act.

The law’s lofty purpose — “to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved” — has not yet been achieved, but the California condor, grizzly bear, whooping crane and bald eagle have all been saved from extinction thanks to the ESA.


FWS Revises Rule On Lesser Prairie Chicken Conservation To Include WAFWA Plan

Copyright 2013: Ecosystem Marketplace | Author: Kelli Barrett

A new plan seeking inclusion into the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s special rule proposal on lesser prairie chicken (as opposed to greater prairie chicken) conservation is facing opposition from some in the conservation banking sector who argue the plan’s voluntary program that relies on untested methods will not deliver needed results.

View this article on


Houston Chronicle Editorial: Common ground

A way to protect and produce

Copyright 2013: Houston Chronicle | September 20, 2013 | Updated: September 22, 2013 7:22pm


Surely the most engaging of our many Texas myths is the one we city dwellers get to see with our own eyes when we venture outside Houston city limits: wide open spaces and big beautiful skies. It takes a little bit longer to find them, but they’re still out there. And a drive across West Texas can convince the road-weary traveler that the empty spaces and big skies really do go on forever.


Leading Environmental Restoration and Mitigation Banking Firm Expands Reach Into Conservation Banking

Lesser Prairie Chicken to Benefit From Partnership

Sept. 5, 2013


Raleigh-based Restoration Systems, LLC is pleased to announce its new partnership with Common Ground Capital, LLC (CGC), headquartered in Edmond, Oklahoma. Restoration Systems has a long history of pioneering and establishing stream, wetland, and water quality mitigation banks in 10 states. Its investment in CGC represents the firm’s entrance into species banking, CGC’s area of expertise.