New rule exempts ag practices in lesser prairie-chicken conservation

News
Dec 13, 2013
by WLJ

—Comment period extended on conservation plan with special exemption rule

In light of a landmark conservation plan developed by the five range states (Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas) of the lesser prairiechicken, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed a special rule last Wednesday that would provide regulatory certainty for landowners by exempting actions and development undertaken in accordance with the plan from regulation conservation, should the bird be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

FWS will accept comments until Jan. 10, 2014, on the proposed special rule. The rule would exempt any activities that harm or result in incidental take of the prairie-chicken if carrying out the state-developed range-wide lesser prairie-chicken conservation plan from regulation. It would also exempt take incidental to routine agricultural practices on existing cultivated lands and to landowner participation in the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative.

“Regardless of whether the lesser prairie-chicken ultimately warrants the protection of the ESA, we can all agree that continued state leadership in management and recovery of this species, as well as a conservation strategy that is compatible with the economic well-being of ranchers and other private landowners, is what is needed here,” said Dan Ashe, Director of FWS.

“The states’ plan, along with this proposed special rule, could provide an unprecedented model for state leadership in conservation of a threatened species.”

The lesser prairie-chicken is a species of prairie grouse commonly recognized for its colorful spring mating display and orange eye combs. For nearly 15 years, FWS has considered the lesser prairiechicken to be a species in trouble, and the severe drought experienced in recent years in the southern Great Plains has not helped matters.

On May 6, FWS proposed a rule that— in the event that the lesser prairiechicken was to be listed as a threatened species—would encourage voluntary participation in conservation programs benefiting the species. The recent proposed revision more specifically identifies and endorses the five states’ rangewide conservation plan as one that, when implemented, addresses the conservation needs of the species.

Comments on the conservation plan with the special exemption rule will be accepted until Jan. 10, 2014. Comments can be sent by mail to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R2- ES-2012-0071; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203, or online at regulations.gov, search phrase “lesser prairie chicken.” It is the only rule open for comment with that search phrase. Remember that all comments will be made publicly available, so do not include information about yourself or your operation that you are uncomfortable being made public. — WLJ

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