First Stronghold Of Protected Habitat For Lesser Prairie-Chicken Established In New Mexico

December 7, 2012

lesser prairie chicken

Lesser Prairie-Chicken in New Mexico. Photo by Kevin Rolle/Flickr

Private-Public Partnership Utilizes Land and Water Conservation Fund to Enhance Land Protection for Species at Risk

Roswell, N.M. — The Conservation Fund announced today it has completed a multi-year effort with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to secure critical habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken, a species the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is proposing to list as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The BLM has acquired 1,789 acres of land in eastern Chaves County that will expand protection in and around a special management area for the lesser prairie-chicken.

Throughout the Southwest and Midwest, the lesser prairie-chicken’s population size and geographic range have dramatically diminished due to the widespread conversion of native prairie grasslands to agricultural uses, leaving Southeast New Mexico as one of the bird’s most important undisturbed habitats. In order to protect this species, the BLM, the Service, the State of New Mexico, The Conservation Fund, local partners, private foundations and others have worked for over a decade to develop conservation strategies for the lesser prairie-chicken, dunes sagebrush lizard and other species at risk.

In May 2008, following an extensive public planning process, the BLM designated a special management area for the lesser prairie-chicken. To conserve this high value habitat, the BLM requested The Conservation Fund’s assistance in acquiring key lands in and around the special area. Recognized as one of the most accessible places in the state to view the chicken in its native habitat, and a significant location for some of the largest known populations of dunes sagebrush lizards, the Sand Ranch property is one of the highest conservation priority areas.

Earlier this year in a technical paper prepared by the Service, the agency called for establishing four focal areas or strongholds of occupied habitat 25,000 acres in size or larger. The Conservation Fund purchased 2,556 acres of land and 42,166 acres of grazing permits and leases in early October. On December 7, the BLM subsequently acquired 1,789 acres of land from The Conservation Fund with support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a federal land protection program that receives funds from the development of federally-owned offshore oil and gas resources. The U.S. Congress appropriated the LWCF funding in Fiscal Year 2011 with strong support from New Mexico’s U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall. No taxpayer dollars are used to support the fund, which has helped agencies strategically protect critical wildlife habitat, local parks, hiking trails, working forests, and other natural and historic resources since 1965.

“We are pleased to acquire this important piece of lesser prairie-chicken habitat,” said BLM State Director Jesse Juen. “We could not have accomplished this without the help of The Conservation Fund. Their dedication and determination made the acquisition possible.”

“New Mexico has long managed its lands in a balanced way that protects the environment and respects the rights of landowners,” Udall said. “I’m glad to see these principles carried out with the lesser prairie chicken through coordination between community members, stakeholders and state and federal agencies.”

“I commend the coordinated efforts between BLM and The Conservation Fund to protect this important habitat in New Mexico. Their work will help protect the lesser prairie chicken habitat and supports the ongoing efforts between public and private landowners to ensure this species can recover,” Bingaman said.

The Conservation Fund was also able to leverage private funds and additional support fromConcho Resources and the Richard King Mellon Foundation for this project. Support from Concho allowed the Fund to purchase the land from its previous owners and hold the property until BLM was able to acquire it. Support from the Mellon Foundation allowed the Fund to acquire the associated grazing permits on approximately 30,000 acres of public lands, also known as the Sand Ranch Allotment, with a goal of voluntary retiring the permits to help conserve habitat values on the public lands.

Map view of Sand Ranch Acquisition for Lesser Prairie ChickenThis project, together with other recent LWCF-funded land acquisitions within the special management area completed in partnership between BLM and The Conservation Fund, secures for perpetuity approximately 58,000 acres of critical habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken and dunes sagebrush lizard and creates the very first lesser prairie-chicken stronghold.

“This is an excellent example of the critical role partnerships play in conservation,” noted Benjamin Tuggle, the Service’s Southwest Regional Director. “The BLM, The Conservation Fund and the private landowners all deserve kudos for voluntarily acquiring and setting aside important lesser prairie-chicken and dunes sagebrush lizard habitat. Much of the lesser prairie chicken’s habitat is on private land in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas. We hope that other private land owners will be inspired by today’s announcement, and will work with federal, state and non-profit partners to establish similar strongholds for this species throughout its range.”

“This effort would not have been possible without the dedication of so many hard-working groups including the BLM, the Service and our private partners – Concho Resources Inc. and the Richard King Mellon Foundation,” said Mike Ford, Southwest Director for The Conservation Fund. “Together we found a solution that supports future economic development in southeast New Mexico while fulfilling conservation priorities and addressing ESA concerns.”

The lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) is a species of prairie grouse endemic to the southern high plains of the United States, commonly recognized for its feathered feet, stout build, ground-dwelling habit, and mating behavior. Males have long tufts of feathers (pinnae) on the sides of the neck that are erected during courtship displays along with brilliant yellow supraorbital eyecombs and reddish esophageal air sacs.

Males gather to display on leks or mating grounds at dawn and dusk beginning in late February through early May in order to attract the females. The males’ sequence of vocalizations and posturing, often described as booming, gobbling, yodeling, or bubbling, attracts not only the females but also birders from across the country to watch their mating dance.

“The key to avoiding the need to list the lesser prairie-chicken under the Endangered Species Act is reducing threats to the species,” Jeun said. “The BLM believes the management of habitat within the special management area is an important component to reducing those threats.”

 

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we combine a passion for conservation with an entrepreneurial spirit to protect your favorite places before they become just a memory. A hallmark of our work is our deep, unwavering understanding that for conservation solutions to last, they need to make economic sense. Top-ranked, we have protected more than 7 million acres across America.

Press Release Contacts

Ann Simonelli | The Conservation Fund | 703-908-5809 | asimonelli@conservationfund.org

Donna Hummel, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico, (505) 954-2018,dhummel@blm.gov
Charna Lefton, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Region 2, (505) 248-6285,charna_lefton@fws.gov


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