BLM And The Conservation Fund Protect 7,440 Acres For The Lesser Prairie-Chicken

March 5, 2010

Lesser Prairie-chicken

Lesser Prairie-chicken. Photo by Dominic Sherony/Flickr

Roswell, N.M. — The Bureau of Land Management and The Conservation Fund have protected 7,440 acres of land about 35 miles east of Roswell for key habitat for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. The land is within a 58,000-acre Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) in Chaves County.

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken is a candidate for listing as ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered’ by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act. The BLM and a variety of partners are supporting a range of efforts to proactively protect and enhance its native habitat.

“There are few things we do in our professional lives that are as critical and long-lasting as today’s acquisition for the prairie-chicken,” said Doug Burger, Pecos District Manager for the BLM. “The Conservation Fund was extremely helpful in working with the landowner to accomplish the acquisition and we want to express our deepest admiration and thanks for their efforts.”

The Conservation Fund negotiated the purchase of the land. When the sale was finalized on March 3, the Fund sold it to the BLM, which received funding from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to complete the transaction. The LWCF funding was provided to the BLM with strong support from New Mexico Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall.

“We’re especially pleased to partner with the BLM to protect one of the best strongholds for the lesser prairie-chicken in the nation,” said Mike Ford, director of the southwest office of The Conservation Fund. “Senators Bingaman and Udall championed this project in Congress and we greatly appreciate their support and commitment to preserving the state’s natural legacy.”

“Today marks a major milestone in protecting and recovering the Lesser Prairie-Chicken and another candidate for federal listing, the sand dune lizard,” said Linda Rundell, New Mexico State Director for the BLM. “We have lots of efforts under way to benefit the two species and I congratulate all of our partners for their work to save the region’s biological heritage.”

The BLM has worked with a variety of interests and groups in southeastern New Mexico since 2003 to benefit the prairie-chicken and the lizard, Rundell added. The ACEC has significant habitat—and good numbers of prairie chickens—but also some of the largest known populations of the sand dune lizard, which only occurs in southeastern New Mexico.

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken/Sand Dune Lizard Working Group, with representatives from conservation groups, the oil and gas industry and ranchers, plus local, state and federal agencies, developed a conservation strategy for the species that was adopted by the BLM in May 2008. The strategy, in the BLM’s ‘Special Status Species Resource Management Plan Amendment’ for its Roswell and Carlsbad Field Offices, defined management prescriptions and conservation efforts to benefit the two species. One of the actions under the plan amendment was to establish the ACEC, which included some state and privately owned parcels in its boundaries.

“Several oil and gas companies were major players in the collaborative planning process that led to the BLM’s plan amendment and the agreement to create the ACEC, including our collective decision to close it to any new oil and gas leasing,” said Rand French, a wildlife biologist with the Marbob Energy Corporation. “Hopefully this and other partnership efforts will show positive results and build a landscape that will eliminate the need to list these species.”

With today’s acquisition of 7,440 acres of land, 53,872 acres within the ACEC are now federal public lands managed by the BLM. In 2009, the BLM acquired 9,621 acres of state lands within the ACEC from the State of New Mexico (State Land Office) to consolidate lands in the ACEC in exchange for federal lands in Dona Ana County.

“The Audubon Society applauds the BLM and its partners for this recent acquisition,” said Karyn Stockdale, Vice President and Executive Director of Audubon New Mexico. “This action complements Audubon’s Important Bird Area designation for the prairie-chicken in eastern New Mexico, and we plan to expand it to include the Area of Critical Environmental Concern.”

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.