Western Governors urge USFWS to approve state conservation mechanism for Lesser Prairie-chicken

Governors of five western states have urged the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to approve the Range-wide Conservation Plan for the Lesser Prairie-chicken (RWP) as the key conservation mechanism for the species.
The Lesser Prairie-chicken is found in ColoradoKansasOklahomaNew Mexico and Texas. In December of 2012, the USFWS proposed to list the species as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
The Western Governors who signed on to the Aug. 2 letter to USFWS – John Hickenlooper (CO), Sam Brownback (KS), Mary Fallin (OK), Susana Martinez (N.M.), and Rick Perry (TX) – are instead urging Dan Ashe, the Director of USFWS, to make use of existing public-private partnerships to conserve the species rather than listing the species as threatened. Such a listing can unduly restrict land use and state land management.
Specifically, the Governors point to the RWP, which is the work of wildlife experts who comprised the Lesser Prairie-chicken Interstate Working Group. The Governors want the USFWS to approve the RWP as a conservation enrollment program for the Lesser Prairie-chicken, a step that could preclude the need to list the species as threatened. Recently, the USFWS extended the timeline for final determination of the species’ proposed listing to March of 2014.
The Governors’ letter echoes themes in existing Western Governors’ Association (WGA) policy resolutions, including:
Policy Resolution 11-10, Lesser Prairie-chicken Conservation, which urged a policy of cooperative management among the states to maintain and restore LPC populations while encouraging responsible development;
Policy Resolution 13-08, The Endangered Species Act, which stated that USFWS should enhance the role of state governments in recovering species, such as through the development of conservation plans;
Policy Resolution 13-04, Conserving Wildlife and Crucial Habitat in the West, in which the Governors urged federal agencies to use state fish and wildlife data and analyses as principal sources to inform natural resource decisions.
The RWP uses state fish and wildlife data for its conservation strategy, including the Southern Great Plains Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (SGP CHAT), which depicts crucial habitat areas for the Lesser Prairie-chicken. Part of the RWP conservation strategy is to use the CHAT to identify areas where habitat improvements should be concentrated.
The SGP CHAT is one of many GIS-tools being developed by Western states that will depict crucial wildlife habitat areas in a single map layer that energy, transmission and land-use planners can use in the beginning stages of project planning. WGA also is supporting development of a Western Governors’ CHAT, which will depict crucial wildlife habitat across the West when it launches this December.