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.


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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.


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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:


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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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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