BLM acquires 7,440 acres to protect lesser prairie-chicken

Mar 12, 2010
by WLJ

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has acquired 7,440 acres of land about 35 miles east of Roswell, NM, to protect key habitat for the lesser prairiechicken. The land is within a 58,000-acre Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) established for the species in Chaves County on May 2, 2008.

The lesser prairie-chicken is a candidate for listing as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). BLM and a variety of partners are supporting a range of efforts to proactively protect and enhance its native habitat.

“There are few things we do in our professional lives that are as critical and longlasting as today’s acquisition for the prairie-chicken,” said Doug Burger, Pecos district manager for the BLM. “The Conservation Fund was extremely helpful in working with the landowner to accomplish the acquisition and we want to express our deepest admiration and thanks for their efforts.”

The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit land and water conservation organization, negotiated the purchase of the land. When the sale was finalized on March 3, the organization sold it to BLM, which received funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to complete the transaction. The LWCF funding was provided to BLM with strong support from Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, and Tom Udall, D-NM.

“We’re especially pleased to partner with the BLM to protect one of the best strongholds for the lesser prairie-chicken in the nation,” said Mike Ford, director of the southwest office of The Conservation Fund. “Sens. Bingaman and Udall championed this project in

Congress and we greatly appreciate their support and commitment to preserving the state’s natural legacy.”

“Today marks a major milestone in protecting and recovering the lesser prairie-chicken and another candidate for federal listing, the sand dune lizard,” said Linda Rundell, New Mexico state director for the BLM. “We have lots of efforts under way to benefit the two species and BLM has worked with a variety of interests and groups in southeastern New Mexico since 2003 to benefit the prairie-chicken and the lizard, Rundell added. ACEC has significant habitat— and good numbers of prairie-chickens—but also some of the largest known populations of the sand dune lizard, which only occurs in southeastern New Mexico.

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken/Sand Dune Lizard Working Group, with representatives from conservation groups, the oil and gas industry and ranchers, plus local, state and federal agencies, developed a conservation strategy for the species that was adopted by BLM in May 2008.

The strategy, in the BLM’s “Special Status Species Resource Management Plan Amendment” for its Roswell and Carlsbad field offices, defined management prescriptions and conservation efforts to benefit the two species. One of the actions under the plan amendment was to establish the ACEC, which included some state and privately owned parcels in its boundaries.

“Several oil and gas companies were major players in the collaborative planning process that led to the BLM’s plan amendment and the agreement to create the ACEC, including our collective decision to close it to any new oil and gas leasing,” said Rand French, a wildlife biologist with the Marbob Energy Corporation. “Hopefully, this and other partnership efforts will show positive results and build a landscape that will eliminate the need to list these species.”

With the acquisition of 7,440 acres of land, 53,872 acres within the ACEC are now federal public lands managed by BLM. In 2009,

BLM acquired 9,621 acres of state lands within the ACEC from the State of New Mexico (State Land Office) to consolidate lands in the ACEC in exchange for federal lands in Dona Ana County.

“The Audubon Society applauds the BLM and its partners for this recent acquisition,” said Karyn Stockdale, vice president and executive director of Audubon New Mexico. “This action complements Audubon’s Important Bird Area designation for the prairie-chicken in eastern New Mexico, and we plan to expand it to include the Area of Critical Environmental Concern.”

BLM will continue to work with the state and private landowners to acquire additional lands within the ACEC. BLM only acquires land from willing sellers. To offset the acquisition of private lands within the ACEC, BLM is working with Chaves County to identify public lands identified for disposal in other areas of the county to be made available for sale.

Several other efforts to conserve the two candidate species are under way. In December 2008, BLM and USFWS expanded an existing conservation program to encourage energy companies and ranchers on federal lands to join private landowners and the agencies in protecting and restoring habitat for the two species.

The agencies are promoting voluntary Candidate Conservation Agreements (CCAs) for oil and gas lease holders on federal lands and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances for state and private landowners to benefit the species. In return for agreeing to do conservation measures above and beyond what is expected of others, landowners receive assurances that their operations will be able to continue even if the species come under the protection of the ESA.

Entities that operate on federal lands or extract federally owned subsurface minerals can participate under newly created CCAs if they agree to do additional measures and contribute funding towards conservation. The benefit to these participants is that they will receive a high degree of certainty that their operations will not change if either the lesser prairiechicken or sand dune lizard is listed. — WLJ