Daily Archives: October 2, 2013

Five States Submit Fourth Draft of Lesser Prairie-Chicken Conservation Plan

Plan is alternative to federal Endangered Species Act listing

The fourth draft of a comprehensive conservation plan for the lesser prairie-chicken has been submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for endorsement, a plan offered by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) and state wildlife agencies in Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.

This latest version comes after extensive review and comment by stakeholders across the bird’s five-state range. Once the USFWS endorses the plan, the states can begin implementing it in hope of precluding the need to list the species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The lesser prairie-chicken is an iconic grassland grouse species native to parts of all five states. However, long-term population declines have brought state and federal agencies together in an attempt to better manage lesser prairie-chickens and their habitats. The resulting precedent-setting plan identifies population and habitat objectives based upon the needs of the species, not state boundaries.

“For years, biologists have well known that wildlife do not recognize state lines, which has presented management challenges for wildlife agencies,” says Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA Grassland Initiative Coordinator. “Often, population goals are set based on administrative boundaries. This plan not only sets biologically meaningful population objectives, it also allows for resources to be spent anywhere within the same habitat type, regardless of the state. This should give state wildlife agencies maximum management flexibility and, ideally, preclude the need to list it.”

The submission of the range-wide plan comes at the same time the second annual statistically-valid, range-wide population estimate for the lesser prairie-chicken is being released. Analysis of the 2013 range-wide survey revealed population estimates of 17,616, down from the 34,440 birds estimated the previous year. This population decrease was predicted by biologists because of the persistent drought that has plagued the region in recent years.

Lesser prairie-chicken populations have fluctuated historically due to weather and habitat conditions. In fact, populations were so low during the droughts in the 1930s and 1950s biologists feared the species was almost extinct. However, when the rains returned, the populations rebounded. Bird populations impacted by drought should respond to a coordinated management approach.

WAFWA’s Grassland Initiative collaborated with the Lesser Prairie-chicken Interstate Working Group, which is composed of biologists from state fish and wildlife departments within the range of the species, the Bureau of Land Management, and Western EcoSystems Technology, Inc. to conduct a large-scale, helicopter-based survey of lesser prairie-chicken leks across all five states. Leks are sites where the birds congregate every spring for breeding. These surveys occurred from March-May and encompassed more than 300,000 square miles. 

The 2013 survey was funded by the five state fish and wildlife agencies and WAFWA with support from various partners, including oil and gas companies that support lesser prairie-chicken conservation, the Bureau of Land Management and a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Although drought has significant impacts on game bird populations, biologists are heartened by the fact that the lesser prairie-chicken has historically shown significant resiliency to periodic climatic events. When the birds were first proposed for listing in the 1990s, the region was experiencing a severe drought. In many areas, bird populations declined by more than 60 percent, but recovered to prior levels with a return to wetter years later in that decade. 

The range-wide conservation plan will help increase and enhance critical lesser prairie-chicken habitat through partnerships with landowners that will incentivize beneficial land management practices. The plan has benefited from extensive public review and stakeholder input, including more than 70 public meetings throughout the five states in addition to online review and comment. This includes specific meetings and outreach for wind energy, oil and gas and agricultural interests.

“We don’t want to see the lesser prairie-chicken designated as a federally threatened or endangered species, however in the event it is listed, we want to have a plan in place to recover the bird and get it off the list as soon as possible,” said Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA grassland coordinator.

“Two critical factors for the bird are good weather and good partnerships with conservation groups and landowners,” Van Pelt added. “Fortunately, drought conditions continue to improve and landowners are getting more involved at the grassroots level, both of which are encouraging signs for the future of the lesser prairie-chicken.”

For more information, contact Van Pelt at [email protected] or visit the team’s website atwww.wafwa.org/html/prairie_chicken.shtml, where the fourth draft of the range-wide plan and the 2013 aerial survey report are available.

Nearly One in 10 U.S. Watersheds Is ‘Stressed’; Demand for Water Outpacing Supply

Nearly one in 10 watersheds in the United States is “stressed,” with demand for water exceeding natural supply — a trend that appears likely to become the new normal, according to a recent study.

“By midcentury, we expect to see less reliable surface water supplies in several regions of the United States,”said Kristen Averyt, associate director for science at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder and one of the authors of the study. “This is likely to create growing challenges for agriculture, electrical suppliers and municipalities, as there may be more demand for water and less to go around.”

According to the research of Averyt and her colleagues, 193 of the 2,103 watersheds examined are already stressed — meaning demand for water is higher than natural supply. The researchers found that most of the water stress is in the Western United States, where there are fewer surface water resources, compared with the East.

Averyt and her colleagues write:

On the water supply side, surface and ground water resources have been declining in much of the U.S. Aquifers underlying the Central Valley in California and the Ogallala, which spans the area between Nebraskaand Texas, are being drawn down more rapidly than they are being recharged. Approximately 23% of annual freshwater demands rely on groundwater resources, yet the volume of groundwater remaining is unclear.

Average surface water supplies are decreasing, and are expected to continue declining, particularly in the southwestern US.. Also in the southwest, water availability is defined as much by legal regimes as by physical processes. Water rights define how much and when water may be withdrawn from surface water sources irrespective of how much water may or may not be flowing in a given year. Water quality, including temperature and sediment concentration, can also constrain availability for certain users.

The researchers found agriculture requires the most water and contributes the most to regional water stress overall; the U.S. West is particularly vulnerable to water stress; and in some areas of the country, the water needs of electric power plants represent the biggest demand on water — so much so that a single power plant “has the potential to stress surface supplies in a local area.” In some densely populated regions like Southern California, cities are the greatest stress on the surface water system.

CIRES produced a map illustrating all of the stressed watersheds in the continental United States, with colors from light green to red indicating increasing levels of stress.

            The researchers found that although there are trends that point toward some stability in the water demandnationally as increased efficiency of use offsets increased population, it remains clear that that climate change is likely to increase water demands as well as diminish water supplies across the nation — especially in already vulnerable areas like the U.S. West, which relies heavily on water from already-stressed watersheds like the Colorado River.

Read the entire CIRES report here.

Farm Bill Expired September 30, 2013

From Wildlife Promise
September 30, 2013

While most people are probably aware of the looming potential government shutdown, there is another deadline today that is getting much less attention: the Farm Bill expires. So what does that mean for conservation and wildlife? In a nutshell, critical conservation programs that allow farmers to protect soil, water and wildlife habitat will come to a screeching halt.

            Farm Bills are typically written in five year increments, and once the bill expires, farm law reverts back to something called “permanent law,” which refers to laws passed in the 1930s and 40s. because this permanent law is so outdated, it is virtually unheard of for Congress to allow the Farm Bill to expire and these outdated laws to kick in – until last year, when that was exactly what happened. Now, we are facing a Farm Bill lapse for the second year in a row.

            Although the major crop insurance, commodity support and nutrition programs in the Farm Bill won’t be immediately affected under an expired Farm Bill, there will be immediate consequences for many conservation programs. While working lands programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program don’t expire until 2014, most of the land retirement programs have an expiration date of September 30, 2013 – today. This means that until a new Farm Bill or an extension is passed, as of October 1 USDA will be unable to enter into any new contracts for the Conservation Reserve Program, the Grassland Reserve Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program. These programs provide critical benefits for soil and water quality and help to create and conserve habitat for wildlife. They are popular with landowners and have a proven record of effectiveness.

            In addition to these programs being frozen, allowing the Farm Bill to expire and delaying the passage of a new five year Farm Bill delays the implementation of critical reforms such as a sodsaver provision to protect native prairies and a provision that would tie conservation compliance to crop insurance in order to protect soil and wetlands. Earlier this month, the USDA released shocking data showing that hundreds of thousands of acres of grasslands and forests were destroyed last year alone to make way for cropland – we can’t afford to wait any longer before we move forward with these protections (both of which are included in the Senate version of the Farm Bill).

            For a full explanation of implications of the farm bill expiration, see this very helpful report from the Congressional Research Service.

Wild & Scenic Film Festival on Friday, October 11 at 7pm at Liberty Hall in Lawrence

Friends of the Kaw Will Host the Wild & Scenic Film Festival

What is it?

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival is a collection of films from the annual festival held the third week of January in Nevada City, CA. Wild & Scenic focuses on films which speak to the environmental concerns and celebrations of our planet. “Films featured at Wild & Scenic give people a sense of place,” says Tour Manager, Lori Van Laanen. “In our busy lives, it’s easy to get disconnected from our role in the global ecosystem. When we realize that the change we need in this world begins with us we can start making a difference. Come watch and see!
For more information visit http://kansasriver.org/wsff/