Conservation Markets Can Protect Endangered Species

State wildlife programs are preferable to federal Endangered Species Act intervention, but a market solution is preferable to both.

Relying on state biologists in the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (Wafwa) to protect the lesser prairie chicken hasn’t worked (“Biden’s Prairie Chicken Fillet,” Review & Outlook, June 23).

State wildlife programs are preferable to federal Endangered Species Act intervention, but a market solution is preferable to both. There is a market solution for the lesser prairie chicken, yet the state agencies quashed it. We as mitigation bankers paid a negotiated price to landowners with the most important habitat and secured more than half the habitat conservation goal in two years—eight ahead of schedule. Wafwa guessed at fair market prices, wasted a good deal of the money and made little progress toward its conservation goals.

The agencies relied on committees of biologists to make real-estate transactions requiring land and business expertise they don’t possess. Energy companies are now facing a total loss on the $60 million they contributed.

When it came time, the federal government did not have much choice on the ESA listing. The bird population is extremely low—only 5,000 lesser prairie chickens remain in eastern New Mexico and West Texas—and the Wafwa program has failed.

The way forward is to trust in conservation markets that pay private landowners market rates to restore and protect vital habitat. Our conservation banks have amassed nearly 100,000 acres of the last of the best land and we are ready to help.

Wayne Walker

Common Ground Capital

Oklahoma City

Adam Riggsbee

RiverBank Conservation

Austin, Texas

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Appeared in the July 6, 2021, print edition.

Gambling with species extinction

Published 6/28/2021 High Plains Journal

https://www.hpj.com/opinion/gambling-with-species-extinction/article_9deeb806-d5bf-11eb-81dd-07d7dacb3a55.html

It’s a gambler’s life to turn a losing proposition into a false sense of victory. Send one to the blackjack table with $1,000; they lose $900, win back $100, and declare they’ve won.

Such it is with lesser prairie-chicken, the enduring, iconic wild grouse of the southern Great Plains prairies. Their populations have been reduced by 90% from as recently as the 1960s, and with a recent positive bump of maybe 5% after a couple years with improved rainfall we have some saying: “We’re good!” We are not good, as the recent proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the chicken under the Endangered Species Act indicates.

Go back further in time when Native American Tribal dances were inspired by the spectacular spring mating dance of the chickens, and there were likely millions of birds. From that rich and patient perspective, there are only a tiny fraction remaining in scattered remnants today.

Others remain inspired by chickens. Bird enthusiasts travel from around the world to watch the crazy, foot-stomping, feather-puffing mating rituals and fights of male chickens in April. But for how much longer?

Having lost 90% of our prairie heritage, are we greedy or careless enough to keep going until the last 10% is gone? Or do we take this moment, when we’re considering admitting the chicken to the wildlife emergency room full of other endangered species, to say, “no more”?

Prairie ecosystems are the most threatened and least conserved in North America. Chickens survive today only because of generous private landowners who steward almost all of the remaining habitat. If Americans are to save the last fragments of prairies and chickens, those landowners deserve our support.

And we know how to support them through farm bill programs, well-designed mitigation programs, and other voluntary efforts. In fact, the majority of chickens remaining occur among lands voluntarily enrolled in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program, providing more intact and contiguous native prairie habitat.

Chickens are so tied to broad, unspoiled prairie landscapes that if we lose them, then we’ll know we’ve lost our last wild prairies. With this loss, we would lose other grassland birds species which, as a group, have declined here more than in any other North American ecosystem. We would lose important pollinators, native grasses and flowers, good soil health, water quality and quantity, and even the opportunity to sequester carbon to help fight climate change.

Too much is at stake to gamble away the last, best places for chickens and people who love prairies. The time to act is now. We know how to act. We have the tools available. All that is required is the collective will to support those who would want to conserve grouse as they have for generations.

Ted Koch is the executive director of the North American Grouse Partnership.

Opinion: Fish, wildlife agency was a failed state bureaucracy — let’s move on!

June 13th, 2021 The Oaklahoman

https://www.oklahoman.com/story/opinion/2021/06/13/opinion-wafwa-failed-state-bureaucracy-lets-move-on/7606810002/

I am a lifelong entrepreneur who grew up in the oil and gas business — my father spent his career drilling wells in the southern plains. I also am a rancher who knows the pressures of modern-day ranching.

The proposed “endangered” and “threatened” listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken is a sad but predictable result that could have been avoided. It was supposed to be prevented by a regional state bureaucracy — the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies — that collected $60 million from oil and gas and accomplished very little in terms of conservation.

But onerous penalties under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) will not help the bird either. We need positive, market-based incentives provided by the private sector under the ESA. There is still a chance for ranchers to help save the bird, protect their own property rights and get paid a market price for their good stewardship.

The best approach now is to get real conservation on the ground, in the right place, that pays a fair market price to landowners for their stewardship past and future. And, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has to “count” these habitat conservation plans.

A final listing decision next year would penalize landowners. A separate action by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could also put the market-based incentive plan in motion. The incentive is simple: energy developers can protect themselves from ESA listings and penalties by paying landowners a market price to protect and recover the Lesser Prairie Chicken under a new habitat conservation plan (HCP) program under final review with the USFWS.

This incentive played a lead role in getting the American Burying Beetle down listed just last year right here in Oklahoma.

As a rancher with my own award-winning family ranch, recently earning the Lone Star award for conservation in West Texas and part owner of a ranch in eastern Oklahoma, I understand the pressures of a federal ESA listing on private land —especially without market-based compensation.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can jumpstart the incentive approach by allowing WAFWA to use the remaining $20 million to buy these private credits as compensation for failure. Or, oil and gas can ask for their money back, and then spend it on a reliable solution!

There is an impact mitigation industry out there of people like me who want to see this bird thrive and not become extinct. The best LPC habitat sites, and there are very few of them left, are with private ranches and these ranchers want to deal with private sector minded people like me, not a five state bureaucracy. The WAFWA program was a failed experiment. The punitive ESA approach is a well-known dead end.  Let’s work together now with private sector interests in oil and gas and private conservation banks, and our federal agencies — for responsible and effective species conservation.

It’s the only way we are going to turn this situation around.

Biden’s Prairie Chicken Fillet: The feds use the Endangered Species Act to block fossil fuels.

June 22nd, 2021 Located on the Wall Street Journal by The Editorial Board

Why did the lesser prairie chicken cross the road? Apparently to shut down oil and gas development. Witness how the Biden Administration is reviving an Obama Administration effort to list the member of the grouse family under the Endangered Species Act to restrict energy development.

Late last month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed a regulation to list the lesser prairie chicken as either threatened or endangered, depending on the region. More than 95% of the lesser prairie chicken’s range falls on private property across Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado. Its range also overlaps with the Permian Basin—the most productive oil-and-gas shale field in the U.S. Green groups have for years used the Endangered Species Act as a way to restrict land development.

In 2015 a federal judge blocked the Obama prairie chicken endangered listing because the Administration had not sufficiently considered alternatives to conserve bird habitat. Businesses and state and federal regulators had already agreed to a plan to support conservation efforts, which gave landowners flexibility to manage their property and compensated them for improving the bird’s habitat.

To continue reading: https://www.wsj.com/articles/bidens-prairie-chicken-fillet-11624401383

Kansas ranchers say government needs to get out of the way and let them save the Lesser Prairie Chicken

By Mark Gardiner and Stacy Hoeme May 28th, 2021

As ranchers from Kansas, we are here to tell you that the proposed listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken as “threatened” spells trouble for our property rights.

It complicates or eliminates the chance to use our pastures and fields for almost everything — from ranching to farming to oil extraction, even renewable energy. It seems the only choice we will be left with is leaving the Lesser Prairie Chicken to fend for itself.

The problem is that, to date, government doesn’t pay well enough for our ranches to stay in conservation.

Last time the Lesser Prairie Chicken was listed, our state governments had a “solution” that was billed as a way for us to keep ranching, save the Lesser Prairie Chicken and even make some money.

Well, folks, out here in the High Plains we know government bureaucracy and failed government programs when we see them. Such was the case with the Western Alliance of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Lesser Prairie Chicken conservation and easement program.

WAFWA failed to deliver on-the-ground conservation and wasted $40M dollars of precious industry money along the way. We won’t belabor the point, but we wouldn’t be writing this if WAFWA’s program was successful. Because now the Lesser Prairie Chicken is proposed for relisting.

To continue reading: https://www.cjonline.com/story/opinion/2021/05/28/lesser-prairie-chicken-needs-real-solutions-government-isnt-giving-kansas-ranchers-lek-threatened/7484448002/

We can save Lesser Prairie Chicken and ranching

By Mack Kizer May 28th, 2021

As ranchers from New Mexico, Texas and Kansas, we are here to tell you the proposed listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken spells trouble for our property rights. It complicates or eliminates the chance to use our pastures and fields for almost everything – from ranching to farming to oil extraction, even renewable energy. It seems the only choice we will be left with is leaving the LPC to fend for itself. The problem is that, to date, government doesn’t pay well enough for our ranches to stay in conservation.

Last time the LPC was listed, our state governments had a “solution” billed as a way for us to keep ranching, save the LPC and even make some money. Well folks, out here in the High Plains we know government bureaucracy and failed government programs when we see them. Such was the case with the Western Alliance of Fish and Wildlife Agencies – WAFWA – LPC conservation and easement program. WAFWA failed to deliver on-the-ground conservation and wasted $40 million of precious industry money along the way. We won’t belabor the point, but we wouldn’t be writing this if WAFWA’s program was successful. Because now the LPC is proposed for relisting. It’s now clear the LPC needs real solutions, and us ranchers need real solutions, too.

The Endangered Species Act now proposes that the Lesser Prairie Chicken be listed as endangered in New Mexico and West Texas, where there are fewer than 6,000, and threatened in Kansas where there are fewer than 20,000. Truth be told, these levels are really near to extinction.

The Kizer Ranch in Pep, N.M., has set aside 10,000 acres for a permanent easement for LPC through a private-sector program called “conservation banking.” Basically, we are paid a market price to permanently protect intact rangelands along with our neighbors, including the Nature Conservancy’s Smoky Valley Ranch nearby. In Yoakum County, Texas, Holgate Land & Cattle and Williams Ranch & Mineral have set aside 3,000 acres adjoining Texas Parks & Wildlife’s Yoakum Dunes Wildlife Management Area.

Likewise, the Hoeme Family HRC ranch in Gove County, Kansas, has set aside 9,000 acres for native habitat on the prairie – and that is world-renowned as LPC mating grounds. This lek – aggregation of male animals – has the most dense population of birds per acre anywhere. The Gardiner family Angus Ranch in Ashland, Kansas, has over 20,000 acres of land ready for these same market-based conservation easements.

 

https://www.abqjournal.com/2394887/we-can-save-lesser-prairie-chicken-and-ranching.html

Service Seeks Comment on Proposal to List the Lesser Prairie-Chicken under the Endangered Species Act

May 26th, 2021

After a thorough review of the best available science, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list two distinct population segments (DPS) of the lesser prairie-chicken under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service is requesting comments or information from the public, governmental agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties concerning this proposed rule.  The lesser prairie-chicken currently occupies a five-state range that includes Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado and faces a number of threats, including, modification, degradation and fragmentation of its habitat.

The Service’s scientific review of past, present and future threats to the lesser prairie-chicken and ongoing conservation efforts found the Southern DPS is in danger of extinction, and the Northern DPS is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. Accordingly, the Service proposes to list the Southern DPS as endangered under the ESA and the Northern DPS as threatened with a 4(d) rule that tailors protections.

“The loss of America’s native grasslands and prairies of the southern Great Plains has resulted in steep declines for the lesser prairie-chicken and other grassland birds,” said Service Regional Director Amy Lueders. “For more than two decades, the Service has supported and encouraged our partners’ voluntary efforts to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken. Together, we have made great strides in conserving key habitat and raising awareness about threats to the lesser prairie-chicken, but we still have much work to do to ensure we have viable lesser prairie-chicken populations. The Service will continue to closely partner with diverse stakeholders across the lesser prairie-chicken’s range to restore this iconic species.”

The Southern DPS encompasses lesser prairie-chicken populations in eastern New Mexico and across the southwest Texas Panhandle. Habitat in this DPS is comprised largely of shinnery oak prairie. The Northern DPS encompasses lesser prairie-chicken populations in southeastern Colorado, southcentral to southwestern Kansas, western Oklahoma and the northeast Texas Panhandle. This DPS includes the lesser prairie-chicken’s short-grass, mixed-grass and sand sagebrush ecoregions.

The Service is proposing a rule under the ESA’s Section 4(d) for the Northern DPS that would tailor protections for the bird. The 4(d) rule proposed for the Northern DPS would except any “take” of the bird associated with the continuation of routine agricultural practices or the implementation of prescribed fire. The ESA defines take as, “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect or attempt to engage in any such conduct.”

The lesser prairie-chicken is a species of prairie grouse commonly recognized for its colorful spring mating display and stout build. Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, its population has declined, due largely to habitat loss and fragmentation, across the southern Great Plains. Aerial survey results from 2012 through 2020 estimate a five-year average lesser prairie-chicken population of 27,384 across the five-state region. It is estimated that lesser prairie-chicken habitat has diminished across its historical range by about 90 percent.

The Service continues to work with partners and private landowners to develop voluntary conservation agreements that will protect the lesser prairie-chicken and the native grasslands on which it depends, while assuring that ranching, agriculture and other activities can continue regardless of whether the species is listed. To date, millions of acres of land have been enrolled in voluntary conservation measures across the lesser prairie-chicken’s range.

The Service’s peer-reviewed species status assessment provides a biological risk assessment on the threats and conservation efforts effecting the lesser prairie-chicken and evaluates its current condition. It also examines its biological status under varying plausible future conditions, incorporating the implications of future threats and conservation actions. According to the assessment, habitat loss and fragmentation are expected to continue, even when accounting for ongoing and future conservation efforts, which will result in continued declines across the species’ range.

The Service has determined that the designation of critical habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken is prudent, but not determinable at this time. We will work with states and other partners to acquire the complex information needed to make a critical habitat determination.

The lesser prairie-chicken became a candidate for listing under the ESA in 1998 and was listed as a threatened species in 2014. The listing was vacated in 2015 following a lawsuit. In September 2016, the Service received a new petition to list the lesser prairie-chicken as endangered, and in November 2016 made a substantial 90-day petition finding that listing may be warranted.

The Service submitted the draft rule to the Federal Register today. The Service is requesting comments or information from the public, government agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties concerning this proposed rule once it publishes in the Federal Register. Comments must be received within 60 days of its publication in the Federal Register. Information on how to submit comments will be available at www.regulations.gov by searching under docket number FWS–R2–ES–2021–0015. Information on how to request a hearing is also included in the Federal Register notice.

The Service will hold two public hearings to gather public comments on the listing proposal. We will hold a public informational session on July 8, 2021 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Central Time, followed by a public hearing from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. To register for this hearing, please visit: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJcvce6tqj0pE9R9F2LsoQFVjNRv8kooxeKJOn July 14, 2021 we will hold a second public informational session from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Central Time, followed by a public hearing from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. To register for this hearing, please visit: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJwrfu-hqzoiG9I2Yr2hqxLpPxSu9YrLZzu5.

For more information, please visit https://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/LPC.html.

LPC still a mystery to long-time KSU researcher

Scott County Record, May 20th, 2021

David Haukos, a researcher with Kansas State University, has spent nearly four decades studying the lesser prairie
chicken. He agrees that, as numbers currently stand, that WAFWA won’t come anywhere near its goal of reaching an annual average of 60,000 LPCs in the five state region that is the bird’s primary habitat. Part of the problem is that the “carrying capacity” of land currently enrolled in the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative or through Common Ground Capital isn’t adequate to support
anywhere close to 67,000 birds. Beyond that, Haukos says the LPC has a long history of fluctuating numbers. He attributes that to “an environment that changes dramatically, and which can see significant changes from one year to the next.” He points out that during periods of severe drought during the 1930s and again in the 1950s, the LPCs saw their habitat strongholds contract significantly. “They colonize and emerge from those areas when conditions improve,” Haukos says. “So to isolate the population
based on a one year count doesn’t offer a full picture with what’s happening on the landscape.”
Likewise, Western Kansas and a large region that is home to the LPC also experienced severe drought from 2011-13, which again resulted in declining numbers. The population has begun to rebound in the years since due to greater precipitation and fewer intensive weather events. “Last year, it was dry, especially out west and it’s been dry in the southern part of the range (Texas and New Mexico) over the last few years, so that’s led to renewed concerns about their population,” says Haukos.

To continue reading: Scott County Record May 20 – LPC INT w WW and KSU INT in support

LPC will again find itself at the heart of controversy

Scott County Record May 20th, 2021

Even those with good intentions may not recognize the most obvious solutions.

Or worse yet, realize when current strategies are failing.

That’s the argument being made by a private group which says a government-based approach to expand the population and habitat for the Lesser Prairie Chicken in Western Kansas and across a five-state area has fallen well short of its goals.

As a result, the LPC could be reclassified as a threatened or endangered species which will draw criticism from landowners, energy companies and other economic interests. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently accepting public comments which could determine later this year how the LPC is listed.

To view the whole article, please click here:

https://www.scottcountyrecord.com/news/threatened-or-endangered

Natural Gas, America’s No. 1 Power Source, Already Has a New Challenger: Batteries

By: Katherine Blunt May 16th, 2021

Vistra Corp. owns 36 natural-gas power plants, one of America’s largest fleets. It doesn’t plan to buy or build any more.

Instead, Vistra intends to invest more than $1 billion in solar farms and battery storage units in Texas and California as it tries to transform its business to survive in an electricity industry being reshaped by new technology.

“I’m hellbent on not becoming the next Blockbuster Video, ” said Vistra Chief Executive Curt Morgan. “I’m not going to sit back and watch this legacy business dwindle and not participate.”

A decade ago, natural gas displaced coal as America’s top electric-power source, as fracking unlocked cheap quantities of the fuel. Now, in quick succession, natural gas finds itself threatened with the same kind of disruption, only this time from cost-effective batteries charged with wind and solar energy.

Natural-gas-fired electricity represented 38% of U.S. generation in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, or EIA, and it supplies round-the-clock electricity as well as bursts during peak demand. Wind and solar generators have gained substantial market share, and as battery costs fall, batteries paired with that green power are beginning to step into those roles by storing inexpensive green energy and discharging it after the sun falls or the wind dies.

Battery storage remains less than 1% of America’s electricity market and so far draws power principally from solar generators, whose output is fairly predictable and easier to augment with storage. But the combination of batteries and renewable energy is threatening to upend billions of dollars in natural-gas investments, raising concerns about whether power plants built in the past 10 years—financed with the expectation that they would run for decades—will become “stranded assets,” facilities that retire before they pay for themselves.

Across the country, much of the growth in renewable energy to date has been driven by state mandates that have required utilities to procure certain amounts of green power, and by federal tax incentives that have made wind and solar more economically competitive.

But renewables have become increasingly cost-competitive without subsidies in recent years, spurring more companies to voluntarily cut carbon emissions by investing in wind and solar power at the expense of that generated from fossil fuels. And the specter of more state and federal regulations to address climate change is accelerating the trend.

President Biden is proposing to extend renewable-energy tax credits to stand-alone battery projects—installations that aren’t part of a generating facility—as part of his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, which could add fuel to an already booming market for energy storage.

 

To continue reading : https://www.wsj.com/articles/batteries-challenge-natural-gas-elecric-power-generation-11620236583

Lesser prairie-chicken habitat could get a boost from private sector plan

May 13th, 2021

Finding a solution to provide reliable habitat for lesser prairie-chickens while balancing the interests of farmers and ranchers has gained traction from advocates who believe a win-win can occur with a market-based approach to pay landowners for easements to benefit the lesser prairie-chicken.

Wayne Walker, CEO of Common Ground Capital LLC, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who is familiar with farming and ranching operations as he and his brothers own a west Texas agricultural operation, wants to provide private sector solutions for species mitigation programs to work with ranchers and landowners to preserve and restore habitat. The goal is to get acres certified with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and sell credits to energy developers to offset impacts to bird’s habitat. Walker said the credits not only help energy developers who purchase the credit by providing them coverage under the Endangered Species Act if the LPC is listed and helps with the species because it ensures long-term habitat protection and restoration in the areas where the bird needs it most.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has published a proposed range-wide habitat conservation plan for public comment that closes on May 14 and that takes into account the needs for wind, solar, electric transmission and distributions lines and communication towers. It allows for a market-based option versus conventional pre-determined payments under existing conservation programs.

Endangered Species Deadline Looms for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken

By: Andy McGlashen Associate Editor, Audubon Magazine May 5th, 2021

A little more than a decade ago, wildlife biologist Blake Grisham and colleagues detected a striking pattern among Lesser Prairie-Chickens nesting on the high plains of New Mexico and Texas: Their chance of successfully hatching chicks falls by 10 percent every half-hour the nest is exposed to temperatures above 93 degrees Fahrenheit. During one brutally hot spring, when the mercury reached triple digits several days in a row, Grisham watched some prairie-chicken hens stubbornly sit on their eggs, while others gave up and left. “The ones that abandoned their nests were the winners,” says Grisham, now an associate professor at Texas Tech University. “The eggs were basically cooked.”

Lesser Prairie-Chickens are tough birds that evolved to handle harsh weather. They’ve always endured heat waves and droughts, their numbers sometimes tumbling as a result. But the birds, a type of ground-dwelling grouse, were numerous—perhaps 2 million strong before European settlement—and they occupied a vast area of the southern Great Plains. Given a few years of decent rainfall and milder temperatures, they’d bounce back.

Today, however, only around 34,000 Lesser Prairie-Chickens remain, spread across parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. They’ve lost 84 percent of their original habitat, much of it converted to croplands, oil and gas fields, wind farms, and other types of development. What remains is largely unprotected—95 percent of it is private land—and is expected to become intolerably hot and dry due to climate change, increasing the likelihood of nest failures like what Grisham witnessed. “My fear,” he says, “is that we’re getting to the breaking point of where the species can’t keep up with our actions.”

To continue reading: https://www.audubon.org/news/endangered-species-deadline-looms-lesser-prairie-chicken

How can the lesser prairie chicken be saved? Farmers are starting by saving their habitat

Alice Mannette The Hutchinson News April 29th, 2021

When Wayne Walker first saw a flock of lesser prairie chickens 20 years ago, he was mesmerized.

In May, the bird might be added to the endangered species list. Whether it is added to the list or not, Walker wants the lesser prairie chicken to flourish.

Walker, who is the CEO of LPC Conservation, realized saving the bird meant saving the bird’s habitat. So the native Texan set out to help save the grasslands in several states where the bird resides – including Kansas.

 

To continue reading: https://www.hutchnews.com/story/news/2021/04/29/how-save-lesser-prairie-chicken-farmers-starting-one-thing-habitat-nature-conservancy-grasslands/7387177002/

Lone Star Land Steward Ecoregion Award Winners, Virtual Banquet Date Announced

AUSTIN  April 29th, 2021 – Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is proud to reveal the 2021 Lone Star Land Steward Ecoregion Award winners. This year’s group of award winners represent a variety of conservation goals and accomplishments, all of which display excellence in natural resource management and stewardship.

The annual banquet that celebrates Lone Star Land Steward Award winners was unable to be held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. TPWD is excited to announce that this year’s awards banquet, which will celebrate 25 years of private lands stewardship, will move forward virtually on May 27 at 6 p.m. Anyone is able to join the live-streamed event. More information on how to tune in, as well as a video playlist highlighting previous year’s winners, can be found on the Lone Star Land Steward page of the TPWD website.

“This style of event will of course have a different feel than what we have all become accustomed to over the last 25 years but we are excited about the opportunity to get these inspirational land stewardship and ranching heritage stories in front of more people than we ever have before,” said Justin Dreibelbis, director of TPWD’s Private Lands and Public Hunting program.

The Lone Star Land Steward Awards recognizes private landowners in Texas for their exemplary contributions to land, water, and wildlife stewardship. With 95% of the land in Texas under private ownership, the conservation and stewardship efforts of private landowners are of vital importance to all Texans.

 

Edwards Plateau – 7 Oaks Ranch (Crockett, Val Verde Counties)

Kelly W. Walker Family (Wayne, Philip and Caton)

The 7 Oaks Ranch was originally founded in 1934 and has been operated by the Walker Family for three generations. Since 2005, the ranch has been jointly managed by ranch owner Kelly W. Walker, Sr. and his three sons Wayne, Philip & Caton. In March 2020, the three sons took on the leading role in managing the ranch following the passing of their father.

The brothers have forged creative partnerships with organizations and volunteers to help them manage their property for a variety of Texas wildlife.  They actively implement prescribed fire, brush management, and community outreach, to carry on their father’s legacy of land stewardship and educate others on land management practices.

2021LoneStar7Oaks

To view the other award winners or read more please click here:

https://tpwd.texas.gov/newsmedia/releases/?req=20210429a

Range-Wide HCP for Lesser Prairie Chicken Shows the Way to Achieve Species Conservation, Climate, & Biodiversity Goals in an Accountable & Efficient Manner

Oklahoma City — (April 14) —   On April 14, 2021 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published the first of two proposed range-wide habitat conservation plans (HCP) for public comment for the lesser prairie-chicken (“LPC”).  This first HCP will provide range-wide regulatory assurances for wind, solar, electric transmission & distribution lines and communication towers for industry participants who wish to responsibly develop projects under any scenario that may occur once the USFWS releases its court-ordered review of the Endangered Species Act listing status on May 26th.

The HCP will enable a strategic, market-based connection with existing conservation banks as well as other mitigation options that meet the standards for performance detailed in the plan and mitigation standards recommended by the USFWS for the LPC.   The HCP will be administered by LPC Conservation, LLC, a special purpose entity owned by Common Ground Capital, LLC of Oklahoma City Oklahoma, Restoration Systems of Raleigh North Carolina and a major equity investor that is active in the energy and real estate space across the country.

Wayne Walker, CEO of LPC Conservation stated: “Our team is excited to provide a best-in-class conservation plan that will deliver desperately needed strategic conservation strongholds and restoration for the LPC. We are using market-based business models employed every day by the vast majority of renewable energy and traditional energy and infrastructure developers who operate in and around the remaining landscapes of the LPC, a species that is a key indicator of health of these Southern Plains Ecosystems.

“We are grateful to the USFWS for the leadership and team execution to achieve this milestone.  We would not be here without our private landowner partners in Kansas and in Texas and New Mexico through our partnership with RiverBank Conservation (Austin, Texas) whose ranches can deliver what this bird needs most-strategic and durable Strongholds of conservation in the right places.  We are confident this plan will deliver the conservation guidance and potential compliance option that both industry project developers and the LPC need. At present, the species and industry lack a range-wide defensible program demonstrating both regulatory compliance and conservation benefits.   In addition to meeting this need, we look forward to working with entities such as North American Grouse Partnership, USFWS, the states, NRCS, industry, private landowners, and other leading NGOs in a transparent and collaborative manner moving forward.”

The programmatic HCP design will encompass the following key attributes:

*A qualified program administrator and team that has a combined over 100 years of business experience in the energy and environmental preservation and restoration market space.

*Availability of approximately 50,000 acres of advance mitigation credits, strategically located in areas that meet the USFWS stronghold criteria and are already approved by USFWS, with existing contracts with private landowner partners across multiple LPC ecosystems.  Any mitigation purchased within these areas will immediately contribute to the USFWS stronghold goal also identified in the Range-Wide Plan.

*A straightforward, clearly defined impact analysis approach for calculating impact mitigation needs for a proposed project.   In addition, LPC Conservation will be launching a secure, web-enabled management dash board that allows program participants to quickly estimate their specific mitigation needs prior to formal enrollment in the program, and then track compliance metrics for any enrolled projects over time.

*Up to 500,000 acres of project impacts can be enrolled and covered under the HCP/ITP during a 30-year ITP term.

*A clearly-defined but simple monitoring program that relieves industry from managing ongoing day-to-day compliance efforts.

*USFWS and 3rd party audit requirements provide transparency and ongoing collaboration in HCP implementation.

*An adaptive management program and description of circumstances under which minimization and mitigation measures can respond to changes that may occur over the ITP term, including those which may reduce these measures.

For more information, please view the Federal Register website at:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/04/14/2021-07475/application-for-an-incidental-take-permit-renewable-wind-and-solar-energy-power-line-and

 

Download the PDF file .

All puffed up and nowhere to go

Theresa Davis, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

April 13th, 2021

Energy development and severe drought have left the colorful grouse with few pockets of prairie in New Mexico.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must decide by May 26 whether the bird should again be added to the endangered species list.

A federal listing could mandate species protection practices from ranchers, farmers and energy companies in the bird’s five-state range.

Tish McDaniel, a grouse biologist, said the “ebb and flow” species depends on a habitat of ample grass and shrubs in the shinnery oak ecosystem.

“The health of the prairie chicken is kind of the health of the prairie,” she said. “If the prairie chicken’s not doing well, the prairie’s not doing well. And there’s not much out here right now.”

The lifelong Portales resident helped establish the 28,000-acre Milnesand Preserve for the birds as part of her career with the Nature Conservancy.

“All of our grassland bird species are important, and they’re in trouble,” McDaniel said. “I’ve been watching prairie chickens all my life. It would be a shame if people didn’t get to see that any more.”

Continue reading here: https://news.yahoo.com/news/puffed-nowhere-140500365.html

A new chapter on the Lesser Prairie Chicken

Published by Wayne Walker Albuquerque Journal

April 11th, 2021

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is at a crossroads.

The Lesser Prairie Chicken is coming perilously close to extinction in her home state of New Mexico. With only approximately 5,000 birds remaining on the shinnery oak prairie of eastern New Mexico and far West Texas, the service must make a call on listing this iconic western bird under the Endangered Species Act by May 26 pursuant to court order.

New Mexico private landowner ranchers, the N.M. Department of Game and Fish and other groups are now trying hard to work in a collective effort to move forward on a public-private solution. N.M. Game and Fish, under the leadership of Mike Sloane, has been exceptional in working collaboratively with other stakeholders, including private landowner partners, to begin to piece together a landscape scale conservation stronghold. The effort is focused in eastern New Mexico, especially in Roosevelt County.

As of this writing, a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is being approved for the five-state range of the Lesser Prairie Chicken including New Mexico. The LPC needs durable conservation strongholds and restoration as well as effective coverage options for industries such as wind, solar and transmission.

The HCP is a program that offsets habitat lost to development with habitat preserved or restored nearby.

This allows needed development in LPC habitat to proceed if it avoids, minimizes and mitigates habitat losses. HCPs are authorized under strict standards.

The standards are approved by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. This long-term plan guides protection and enhancement of habitats for “threatened” and “endangered” wildlife species, while ongoing natural resource management continues. New Mexico private landowner ranchers will get a market-based payment for preserving or restoring LPC habitat where the LPC needs it most.

The sad reality is that New Mexico will face the most striking choice if the federal protection recommends an endangered status for the LPC in May. With the smallest population of birds in the five-state region, New Mexico is likely to fare most poorly among these five states. Even the best of intentions don’t translate into success if private landowners are not paid a meaningful, market-based payment rate and structure that delivers durable conservation where its needed most.

Approval of this new program is being announced in the Federal Register this week, and we invite public comment and input.

We applaud the leadership of Region 2 right here in Albuquerque and Secretary Haaland for advancing this progressive plan. We also hope existing programs will be upgraded to the new performance standards so we finally might have one conservation currency for all stakeholders.

Approving the new HCP program will provide state-of-the-art coverage for renewable energy installations, and eventually all industries, and move us from competition to collaboration with existing conservation efforts for the LPC. This new chapter will enable a strategic and collaborative environment.

Our hope is to help achieve a sustained and measurable conservation strategy for the LPC in a last-stand effort in New Mexico and across the range of this species with our local partners in eastern New Mexico.

See the article posted here: https://abqjournal-nm-app.newsmemory.com/?publink=11d7de0f7_1345d0f

A bird in the bush

Published by: Kevin Wilson The Eastern New Mexico News

April 10th, 2021

https://www.easternnewmexiconews.com/story/2021/04/11/news/a-bird-in-the-bush/168393.html

MILNESAND – A morning on the stomping grounds of the lesser prairie chicken gives plenty of insight into why the bird’s population has dwindled over the decades.

It requires a very specific type of land to mate, it’s an easy target for predators and the eggs that do get laid have about a dice roll’s chance of making it to adulthood.

But a morning watching the birds in action show why so many in the most rural of rural eastern New Mexico want to keep them alive.

A group of conservationists, along with Pep rancher Mack Kizer, invited various media outlets to a viewing of the birds Thursday near Milnesand.

Wayne Walker of Oklahoma City-based LPC Conservation said the group anticipates a plan will become public from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services this week that is focused on the species.

“It’s a plan that’s comprehensive in nature,” Walker said. “The difference between this plan and some of the other plans that have been in New Mexico is we pay people like Mack to negotiate a market-base rate to get his ranch protected to benefit lesser prairie chickens in perpetuity. It’s a big sacrifice for him and his family. It’s more than a government payment program.”

The goal is with a designated portion of land like Kizer’s serving as a conservation bank for the lesser prairie chicken, surrounding acreage that is prime real estate for renewable energy development has fewer legal hurdles to clear.

Adam Riggsbee of Austin-based RiverBank Conservation thinks of a conservation bank as a three-legged stool – a conservation easement, a management plan and an endowment to fund the plan. While the first and last legs are usually uniform, the management plan is tailored for each situation.

A plan for lesser prairie chickens, Riggsbee surmised, could include grazing limitations and elimination of tall structures that would be perfect hunting spots for predators.

“They need intact prairie, and they need the absence of really tall structures,” Riggsbee said. “Any sort of fragmentation can displace them. You want to look for a prairie that doesn’t have a whole lot of roads, doesn’t have oil pads, doesn’t have power lines. Just native prairie.”

Kizer would see some financial incentive from the endowment, but likely less than he could make developing the land for alfalfa and other crops. But he’s grown up around the birds, and doesn’t mind the sacrifice.

“I’m always trying to protect the chickens,” Kizer said. “I think they’re one of the neatest birds there ever was.”

The Thursday morning mating ritual was described by grouse biologist Tish McDaniel, who first saw the birds when her parents took her out to a lek (mating site) as an infant.

“The sole purpose of the dance is to call the females,” McDaniel said. “They start a little bit before the light, and they’ll go to about 8:15. They stomp their feet, they flap their wings and spread their tails and their (air) sacs.

“They stomp, they flutter, they jump and down. They try to get the highest they can on the lek. The one who can stand the tallest thinks they’re going to get a female there.”

Copulation happens in a matter of seconds, and a female will have multiple partners over a 13-day period. She’ll lay an egg each day, but won’t sit on the eggs until she develops a brood patch. The eggs all hatch around the same time, and come out of their shells fully feathered and ready to hunt insect food sources on their own.

McDaniel said she’s taken thousands of people on these visits, and it’s not unusual to see people get emotional after watching the birds as they simply try to keep their existence intact.

“I think it’s important to save every species,” McDaniel said. “We never know what the importance of a species is, from the maggots that take care of the dead stuff. What link do they give to the other species in the world? The thing about the lesser prairie chicken is it’s so charismatic. All of our grassland birds are in decline. I’d hate to ever say there was a species that’s not worth saving.

Habitat reserves set up to help lesser prairie chicken

By Scott Wyland – Santa Fe New Mexican April 7th, 2021

A portly brown grouse with striped feathers and large golden brows might return to protected status in late May, as two companies aim to develop enough habitat to allow the lesser prairie chicken to thrive.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must decide by May 26 whether to relist the bird under the Endangered Species Act to comply with a court order spurred by three conservation groups suing the agency in 2019.

“The lesser prairie chicken is endangered and should again be listed,” said Bryan Bird, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit. “We have documented continued loss of … habitat, meaning that, if anything, the situation for the chicken is worse than when the Fish and Wildlife Service last attempted to list the bird.”

Continue reading here : https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/habitat-reserves-set-up-to-help-lesser-prairie-chicken/article_0b3f6706-96ec-11eb-8dcf-639924597766.html