A bird in the bush

Published by: Kevin Wilson The Eastern New Mexico News

April 10th, 2021


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

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.


To continue reading: https://www.currentargus.com/story/news/local/2021/04/07/lesser-prairie-chicken-habitat-eastern-new-mexico-travel-blog/4840212001/

“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.

Original Article Link

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.

Original Article Link

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.

Original Article Link

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…

Continue to Original Article

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.

Original Article Link

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.