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Conservation agreements protect 3,682 acres of prairie-chicken habitatConservation agreements protect 3,682 acres of prairie-chicken habitat

WAFWA negotiates conservation easements; Nature Conservancy will hold and monitor.

October 4, 2017

3 Min Read
MORE HABITAT: Three permanent conservation agreements obtained by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies will help maintain quality habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken.

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has finalized permanent conservation agreements with three private landowners to conserve 3,682 acres of high-quality lesser prairie-chicken habitat in northwestern Kansas.

“These are the first easements obtained by WAFWA in the shortgrass ecoregion as called for by the Lesser Prairie-chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan,” says Brad Odle, WAFWA’s regional biologist, who worked closely with the landowners to secure the easement. “We applaud these visionary landowners who are protecting and conserving the landscape as a working ranch that will be enjoyed by future generations. It offers habitat for a whole host of wildlife species including the lesser prairie-chicken. This is another positive step toward establishing a stronghold for lesser prairie-chicken in this area.”

The complex of properties is located near the Smoky Valley Ranch, which is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. The 17,290-acre ranch is identified in the range-wide plan as a potential target around which a stronghold could be established. A stronghold is defined as a block of fairly contiguous grassland consisting of at least 25,000 acres that contains at least six active lek sites, which are mating areas for the birds. There must also be assurances that all the properties contributing to a stronghold will be protected from future development and managed in a way that is beneficial to lesser prairie-chickens into the future. With additional easements like the ones just finalized, the Smoky Valley Ranch and nearby permanently conserved properties could become a stronghold for the species.

The permanent conservation easements on the private properties were purchased by WAFWA and will be held and monitored by The Nature Conservancy. The easements restrict future development and activities that would be detrimental to the bird’s habitat. All other property rights associated with the land will be retained by the private landowner. WAFWA has also established an endowment that will provide the landowners with sufficient annual payments to implement a lesser prairie-chicken conservation plan in perpetuity. The primary conservation practice that will be implemented is prescribed grazing, which will be used to maintain sufficient vegetative structure for every phase of the lesser prairie-chicken life cycle. This transaction not only permanently protects key prairie habitat, but also ensures that the properties will remain a working ranch.

“There’s probably no better approach to long-term conservation than a mutually beneficial partnership,” says Matt Bain, Western Kansas Conservation Program manager for The Nature Conservancy. “It’s been an honor for us to be a part of this and help these landowners achieve their long-term vision for their ranch.”

The range-wide plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA; the state wildlife agencies of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas; U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and many non-government conservation organizations. It was developed to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken by providing another voluntary conservation program for landowner and industry cooperation and improving coordination between state and federal conservation agencies. Funding for WAFWA’s conservation efforts comes from voluntary mitigation payments by industry partners that are enrolled in the plan. The plan provides certainty to participants that they will be able to continue operations without interruption and when fully implemented produces a net conservation benefit to the lesser prairie-chicken. .

Since 1922, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has advanced conservation in western North America. Representing 23 Western states and Canadian provinces, WAFWA’s reach encompasses more than 40% of North America, including two-thirds of the United States. Drawing on the knowledge of scientists across the West, WAFWA is recognized as the expert source for information and analysis about Western wildlife. WAFWA supports sound resource management and building partnerships at all levels to conserve wildlife for the use and benefit of all citizens, now and in the future.

Source: Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

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