WAFWA Encourages Oil and Gas Company Participation in Lesser Prairie-Chicken Conservation Plan

Recent Court Decision Makes Enrollment Available Again

Nov. 11, 2015- The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) is encouraging oil and gas companies to enroll oil and gas leases and pipelines in a voluntary program to help conserve the lesser prairie-chicken. Because of a Sept. 1, 2015, federal court decision that vacated protection of the lesser prairie-chicken under the Endangered Species Act, WAFWA’s Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances is now open for new enrollments of oil and gas leases and pipelines.

The Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances provides industry with predictability for their operations should the lesser prairie-chicken again be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The bird was listed as threatened in May 2014, but the court decision reversed that protection. Because of that decision, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved new enrollments by companies operating within the five range states of Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Texas. The companies are required to implement conservation benefits for lesser prairie-chickens and pay enrollment and impact fees for unavoidable impacts, which allow the companies to continue oil and gas production, while contributing to conserving lesser prairie-chicken habitat.

“Since this program began in 2014, more than 180 oil, gas, wind, electric and pipeline companies have enrolled about 11 million acres across the five states, and have committed $47.5 million for habitat conservation,” said Sean Kyle, WAFWA’s industry services director. “We’ve had great support for this program, and we encourage all companies not currently participating to take advantage of this enrollment opportunity.”

WAFWA officials do not know how long this new opportunity will be available. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has asked a federal judge to reconsider the Sept. 1 decision, and depending on the outcome, the new enrollment period could end. Because of the uncertainty, WAFWA encourages all interested companies to enroll as soon as possible.

WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan and the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances were developed by state wildlife agency experts in 2013 with input from a wide variety of stakeholders. The Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances is one piece of a comprehensive range-wide plan designed to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken.

“Our long-term goal is conservation of the lesser prairie-chicken, regardless of its Endangered Species Act status,” said Alexa Sandoval, director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and chairman of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council. “Since the Sept. 1 decision to vacate the listing, we have pursued conservation efforts under the range-wide plan with the same vigor as we did before. We’re pleased to report that our landowner and industry partners are equally committed to continued conservation efforts.”

WAFWA has enrolled more than 96,000 acres of farm and ranch land to offset industry development over the last year and a half. In addition, WAFWA has acquired 1,600 acres in permanent conservation and contracted for 8,900 acres of habitat restoration, which will create new habitat for the species.

An abundance of spring rainfall, along with ongoing efforts associated with the range-wide plan and other conservation initiatives, has helped increase the population of birds by about 25 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to results from the 2015 range-wide aerial survey. Despite this encouraging news, the population is still low compared to historical numbers, and the threats to the lesser prairie-chicken and its habitat still exist. WAFWA is committed to continued successful implementation of the range-wide plan and the long-term recovery of this iconic grassland bird.

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(Organized in 1922, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) represents 23 states and Canadian provinces, an area covering nearly 3.7 million square miles of some of North America’s most wild and scenic country. WAFWA supports and promotes the principles of sound resource management and the building of partnerships at the regional, national and international levels in order to enhance wildlife conservation efforts and the protection of associated habitats in the public interest.)

Contact:  Sean Kyle

E-mail:  sean.kyle@wafwa.org

Telephone:  (806) 252-2766

The mission of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is the management of Oklahoma’s wildlife resources and habitat to provide scientific, educational, aesthetic, economic and recreational benefits for present and future generations of hunters, anglers and others who appreciate wildlife.

News Contacts:  Don P. Brown, donald.brown@odwc.ok.gov

Micah Holmes, micah.holmes@odwc.ok.gov

Website:  wildlifedepartment.com

Telephone:  (405) 521-4632

This program receives federal assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and thus prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, disability, age and sex (gender) pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended), Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. To request an accommodation or informational material in an alternative format, contact Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, (405) 521-3851. If you believe you have been discriminated against in any program, activity or service, contact U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office for Diversity and Workforce Management, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041.