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Factors D and E—inadequacy of regu-

latory mechanisms and other factors— have also influenced the status of the LEPC, though to a much lesser extent. Despite regional, state and local efforts to preserve the LEPC during the 14 years since it became a candidate species, the curtailment of its habitat has continued. Various other factors are believed to have impacted the LEPC population includ- ing drought, hailstorms and other severe weather events, collision with barbed wire fencing, and more.

Ongoing local efforts Selman is passionate about preserving the prairie and its many inhabitants— not just the prairie-chicken.

“The species are the indicator lights. When they start blinking out, we’re in trouble,” she said.

could be fi ned.”

No one knows exactly how the “take” pro- hibitions would impact Oklahomans. For Knowles and other landowners, that’s a cause for concern.

“It would probably affect farmers, but no one will know for sure until it happens,” Knowles said. “Most folks would rather work to enhance them on a voluntary basis, rather than having someone tell them what to do on their ranch.”

The listing could have far-reaching implica- tions on the state level as well.

“We could see a lot of issues. It could make The lesser prairie-chicken is a candidate for listing under the Endangered

Species Act. The bird inhabits portions of Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Colo- rado, and New Mexico.

Over the past 15 years, she has worked with the FWS to improve the lesser prairie-chicken habitat on her ranch—controlling cedar encroach- ment onto the prairie land and maintaining the grass so the birds have suffi cient nesting cover. Knowles has employed similar measures to make his land prairie-chicken friendly. In addition, he has planted feed plots to produce grain for the birds to eat.

“I started the plots in 1998 and 1999. I had about a dozen chickens on the ranch back then,” Knowles said. “Two years after that the numbers had tripled.” In order to reduce prairie-chicken injury and fatal- ity due to fence collision, he has started marking the barbed wire fences on his ranch with white markers. According to Tyler Powell, director at the Oklahoma Office of the Secretary of Environment, the Okla- homa Department of Transportation is planning a similar project to install refl ectors on all the roadside fences in LEPC territory—an effort that came about without any legislation.

On the state level, ODWC has pioneered several prairie-chicken preservation efforts, including a spa- tial planning tool to help energy developers deter- mine the impact of potential projects. ODWC is currently working with the FWS to de- velop a Candidate Conservation Agreement with As- surances (CCAAs) for Oklahoma. If approved, land- owners who agree to implement certain conservation practices on their land could enroll in the program. For example, if a landowner has too many cattle, they could work through the agreement to reduce the number of livestock in the pasture. This would help reduce overgrazing and ensure that the grassland is suitable habitat for the LEPC.

“If you start early enough and affect enough acre- age, the candidate conservation agreement could be effective at conservation and you could preclude the need for a listing,” Collins said.

In exchange for their efforts, landowners receive an assurance that if the bird is listed, they won’t be obligated to do anything that’s not specifi ed in the agreement. Texas and New Mexico already have ongo- ing CCAAs in place, Collins said. Last summer, U.S. FWS Director Dan Ashe traveled to Oklahoma for public meetings in Woodward and Edmond. Landowners and state offi cials requested a

24-month extension to the release of the proposed listing rule in order that ongoing local efforts have more time to produce results.

“We believe that our local coalition of partners can do a better, faster and more-effi cient job of preserving the lesser prairie-chicken than would otherwise occur if the chicken were listed by the U.S. Fish and Wild- life Service,” Chris Meyers, general manager of the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, said. “Rather than put Oklahoma landowners and energy providers in a compliance role full of red-tape, delays and high-costs, it would allow us to focus on growing the lesser prairie-chicken population through local cooperative efforts.”

According to Powell, U.S. FWS Director Ashe in- dicated that a 24-month extension is not probable; however, there is a possibility that the FWS could grant a six-month extension.

Though many efforts have been made to strengthen the LEPC population, it seems that a listing, whether sooner or later, is unavoidable.

“When the FWS made the bird a candidate, we said that a listing is warranted and we haven’t made any modifi cations or adjustments to that,” Collins said. “The proposed rule will explain why protection under the Endangered Species Act is needed.”

Impli c ations of a listing

A comment period will follow the release of the pro- posed rule. During this time the public can submit written comments and documentation to the FWS. If documentation shows that the FWS data is incorrect, it will be taken into account. The Service typically has a year to make a fi nal listing decision. Once listed, the ODWC would lose management authority over the bird and the federal government would take over as the regulatory authority, Schoe- ling said.

The Endangered Species Act defines “take” as harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping or capturing the animal. According to Brady McGee, regional listing biologist with the U.S. FWS, “take” of a listed species without a permit is prohibited. The designation of threatened could allow for more management fl exibility, he said. “If it’s listed as endangered, you can’t harass it—you can’t bother it,” Fletcher with WFEC said. “If you’re building a transmission line and you bother it, you

it difficult for new economic development, infrastructure upgrades and road projects,” Powell said. “There could be a lot of delays be- cause of environmental assessment hurdles.” Listing would impact electric coopera- tives and their members by causing delays in building new transmission facilities and wind farms.

“It would slow any transmission line projects be- cause of the additional requirements anytime you’re in the prairie-chicken habitat,” Meyers said. “It could also slow or stop future wind energy development be- cause the best places for the chicken to live are also prime wind locations.”

In addition, costs would increase for cooperatives working in LEPC-inhabited areas.

“It may impact how we route a line because there may be areas where you can’t build,” Fletcher said. “If you’re building a large transmission line and the cost is several million dollars per mile, you’re going to spend a lot more if it has to be 150 miles long instead of 100 miles long.”

Preserving the prairie-chicken Listing the lesser prairie-chicken would obligate the FWS to develop and implement a recovery plan, which would outline the steps needed to remove the bird from the threatened or endangered list. “Unfortunately the program has not been very ef- fective in getting species off the list because of lack of funding,” Collins said.

Thus, regardless of the FWS’s listing decision, con- tinued local efforts will be required to preserve one of the Oklahoma’s rarest prairie inhabitants. And the rural electric cooperatives of Oklahoma understand the importance of local participation. “We live in and serve rural areas. We are conserva- tionists. We care as much about wildlife and rural ar- eas as anyone,” Meyers said. “We are for the chicken, but we also understand our responsibility to keep up with the electricity demand. Our paths have intersect- ed and we want to do what’s best for both. Our hope is that local efforts are successful.”

It’s not too late to join in efforts to preserve the lesser prairie-chicken. Resources are available to landowners through the Sutton Center in Bartles- ville, the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative in Stillwa- ter, the ODWC and the U.S. FWS. Those who don’t live in LEPC territory can contribute to the cause by staying informed and supporting local agencies. The upcoming Lesser Prairie-Chicken Festival in Wood- ward, which runs from April 26-May 2, 2012, is an ideal opportunity to learn more about preservation efforts and see the bird fi rst-hand. OL

FEBRUARY 2012 31

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