MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

August 16, 2013

Five governors want partnership to protect chicken

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The governors of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas say public-private partnerships involving landowners and developers are the best way to protect the habitat of the lesser prairie chicken.

The five governors sent a letter Aug. 2 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking the agency to not add the bird to the threatened species list, according to the Journal Record newspaper of Oklahoma City (http://bit.ly/12al4Wr ). They told the service’s director, Dan Ashe, that protecting the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act could slow development of oil and gas and wind energy projects across the Plains.

The lesser prairie chicken is a nomadic bird.

Clay Pope, the executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, said he agreed with the governors. He said public-private partnerships are beneficial for landowners in the long term, but there can be a short-term cost.

“There are challenges in changing the way you manage your land,” he said. “But there are benefits for the land when you manage for wildlife while still trying to produce food and fiber.”

In 1996, the five states’ wildlife agencies formed a group to determine how to conserve the bird’s habitat and in April released a conservation plan that includes monitoring the bird’s habitat and population.

Public agencies can provide technical assistance to help farmers, ranchers and landowners in order to lower fences, remove trees and alter grazing patters, and can also provide grants to offset the costs.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says it received the letter from the governors and is working on a response. Service spokeswoman Lesli Gray also says it’s working closely with the five states on a range-wide plan.

“We will be meeting again soon and we are continuing our efforts on the lesser prairie chicken and working with the five states,” she said.

A decision on whether the lesser prairie chicken will be added to the threatened species list is expected next March.

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