Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Agencies Approve Prairie Chicken Program in Oklahoma

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Agencies Approve Prairie Chicken Program in Oklahoma

Article excerpt

Landowners in western Oklahoma now may have a way to protect their land and cattle while simultaneously safeguarding a prairie bird that has caused controversy among energy and agricultural industries. Two wildlife agencies that developed the conservation program said although the plan was difficult to develop, it should benefit both landowners and the lesser prairie chicken.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached an agreement at the end of January to approve a candidate conservation agreement with an assurance program for the lesser prairie chicken. The USFWS is considering whether to add that bird to a list of threatened and endangered species, a move that would make it a crime to harm the lesser prairie chicken or disturb its habitat.

The new conservation agreement would assure private landowners that they won't face prosecution under the Endangered Species Act for harming the bird, said Russ Horton with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Horton supervises the private land and wildlife diversity program for the agency. He worked with the USFWS and landowner groups for two years to develop the agreement.

"It's just another tool we have to offer landowners in lesser prairie chicken conservation and maintain their way of life," Horton said.

The agency had never completed a conservation agreement plan before, so they weren't sure what to expect, Horton said. The plan had to first be beneficial to the animal, but also had to be acceptable to landowners, he said. The level of detail required to determine all of the potential threats and consequences of the plan was the biggest challenge, Horton said.

Ken Collins, fish and wildlife biologist with the USFWS Southwest region, said the agency had to determine conservation management activities that a typical farmer or rancher might use that would also be beneficial to the lesser prairie chicken. The species lives in a wide-open prairie, but uses different habitats for breeding, nesting, raising young chicks and for surviving winter months. …

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