Magazine article Endangered Species Bulletin

A Team Approach to Coastal Prairie Conservation

Magazine article Endangered Species Bulletin

A Team Approach to Coastal Prairie Conservation

Article excerpt

A vast expanse of more than 6 million acres (2.4 million hectares) of coastal prairie habitat once extended from southwest Louisiana to the lower Texas coast. One early explorer described the coastal prairie as "an unbroken, level grassy plain extend[ing] for miles ... on which a few islands of trees and shrubs were scattered." Today, coastal prairie is recognized as one of the rarest habitats in the nation, with less than a total of one percent remaining in relatively pristine condition.

The degradation, displacement, and fragmentation of coastal prairie habitat has contributed to the decline of such birds as the lark sparrow (Chondestes grammacus), Henslow's sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii), LeConte's sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii), Attwater's greater prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus cupido attwateri), and other grassland-dependent bird species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) Texas Gulf Coast Ecosystem Team identified prairie enhancement and restoration, including the recovery of Attwater's prairie-chicken, perhaps North America's most endangered bird, as a top priority within the ecoregion. However, with 98% of coastal prairie habitat in private ownership, finding suitable sites for the release of captive-bred birds and restoring the coastal prairie ecosystem will depend on the cooperation of private landowners.

For this reason, the FWS, along with the Sam Houston Resource Conservation and Development Area (sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture), instituted the Native Gulf Coast Prairie Restoration Project within the framework of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. The project is designed to restore and maintain coastal prairie habitat on private lands by providing technical and financial assistance to landowners for conservation practices benefitting species of concern.

To ease the concern of private landowners about habitat enhancement leading to an increase in endangered species and accompanying regulatory impacts, the Fish and Wildlife Service helped to establish a Habitat Conservation Plan--including a "Safe Harbor" provision--for the species in 1995. …

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