There is plenty of controversy over whether or not the lesser prairie chicken should be listed as an endangered species. At least one option is open to farmers and landowners who want to take voluntary action to help prevent the listing -- signing up for the voluntary Lesser-Prairie Chicken Conservation program.
Landowners who want to participate in that action can get financial help to implement conservation programs that help improve the habitat for the birds and encourage the growth of their numbers in Kansas.
The signup deadline for Lesser-Prairie Chicken Conservation is coming up fast however. There are only 11 more days before the Feb. 28 deadline to enroll in the program, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
Landowner and producers with land in the lesser prairie-chicken range are eligible to apply, and those who are accepted will receive payments for implementing conservation practices such as mechanical brush removal, prescribed grazing, and establishment and management of planted native grass stands. Only producers not currently enrolled in federal farm bill programs are eligible to apply for five- and 10-year contract options.
Applications will be ranked by the WAFWA based on their value to lesser prairie-chickens. Accepted landowner/producers located in the high-priority locations can receive payments of up to 125 percent of the estimated cost of implementing the conservation plan. If the species becomes federally listed, participating producers will be exempt from the take prohibition of the Endangered Species Act if the take occurs while implementing the practices prescribed in their conservation plan.
Landowners who are interested should contact the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Region 1 office in Hays. More information and enrollment applications are available by calling the office at 785-628-8614.
About the WAFWA
The WAFWA consists of 23 state and provincial wildlife agencies that have primary responsibility and authority for protecting and managing fish and wildlife in the western United States and Canada. Member agencies in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado worked through the WAFWA over the last two years to produce the Lesser-prairie Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan as a means to preclude a federal listing of the species under the ESA.
On October 23, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endorsed the RWP as "a comprehensive conservation plan that reflects sound conservation design and strategy that, when implemented, will provide a net conservation benefit to the lesser prairie-chicken."
To date, the RWP is the only plan that has been endorsed by the USFWS and is the only pathway that has the potential to lead to a not warranted final decision. The amount of voluntary enrollment in the RWP will likely weigh heavily into the final listing decision that must be announced by the end of March.