Landowners say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not considering one of the largest factors in its decision whether to list the lesser prairie-chicken as threatened: The economic impact it would have on this area.
Farmers, ranchers and members of the energy industry among a group of 60 made that point heard Thursday night at the Portales Memorial Building, where a public meeting was held by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to reveal its plan to keep the bird off the list.
“The (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) won’t let them consider the local economy on this,” said Roosevelt County farmer George Hay. “That’s the biggest flaw in this whole thing.
But Grant Beauprez, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish’s biologist, says it’s not their goal to get the bird listed and hopes to work with the local community to keep it from happening.
“Hopefully we can demonstrate we don’t need to list this bird,” Beauprez said.
Farmers, ranchers and friends of the wind energy field say the listing of this bird can affect how they conduct their business, which can ultimately have a negative economic impact.
Beauprez presented information for them about the lesser prairie chicken, known for itπs unique mating rituals, and the department’s range-wide management plan to keep the bird from being listed.
It’s been an ongoing fight since 1998 when the bird was listed as a candidate for the USFWS federal register.
Beauprez went over pages of facts to help interested parties understand the bird’s habitat requirements such as native grass and denser vegetation for its nesting habitat.
He also went over a list of threats to the bird that occupies five states, including New Mexico with birds in southern Roosevelt County and pockets of Curry County, such as livestock grazing and habitat conversion by agriculture.
Beauprez also shared the population goals for the bird in within the next 5-10 years to be 67,000 within those states, almost double its current number of 37,000.
“We’ve actually been at that (population) level before, we’re just trying to sustain it,” Beauprez said.
The sand shinnery oak section, which includes eastern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle, has an individual population goal of 8,000 birds.
Beauprez said the best way to prevent the bird from being listed is for land owners to enter into a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA).
A CCAA is a management plan that land owners agree to upfront that will allow them to manage their land they way they’d like without while following guidelines to keep the bird out of harms way, according to Josh Miller with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
But one landowner was critical of the CCAA, calling it a form of extortion, ultimately forcing landowners into a contract or suffering the consequences of federal laws of the Endangered Species Act.
“It’s 100 percent voluntary,” Miller said.
Miller added that if the bird does get listed, landowners who signed a CCAA would be held to the guidelines they agreed to rather than possible stricter laws enforced by USFWS.
“The more conservation agreements in place, the better,” Beauprez said.
Beauprez said the agreements help assure the USFWS that there is more in place to down the road to preserve the bird, and can ultimately affect their decision.