Some years ago in my youth (or a long, long time ago however you want to put it), I recall chasing after a prairie chicken or two with my brother on the family farm east of Hammond. I say "chasing after" as I don't recall ever shooting one, or getting close enough with a shotgun to shoot one (those rascals can fly a long way!), but we did engage in the chase upon occasion.
In recent years, however, I don't recall seeing any prairie chicken in that area of the county, or in other areas of the county for that matter. Just how close their population is to "0" in Bourbon County is uncertain. USDA agencies, however, are beginning to address this situation.
Based on scientific evidence that the lesser prairie-chicken and its habitat are in decline, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last month that it is initiating a process to consider whether the species should be recognized as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
State conservation agencies, in partnership with federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Land Management and partners such as the Sutton Center, Bartlesville, Okla., are working on a range-wide, voluntary conservation planning effort that will play a significant role in conserving lesser-prairie chicken habitat.
"We are encouraged by current multi-state efforts to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken and its habitat, but more work needs to be done to reverse its decline" said Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Similar to what state and federal partners in this region accomplished when the dunes sagebrush lizard was proposed, we must re-double our important work to identify solutions that provide for the long-term conservation of the species and also help working families remain on the land they have stewarded for generations."
The service will make a final determination on whether to add the lesser prairie-chicken to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife based on the best available science. Members of the public and scientific community are encouraged to review and comment on the proposal during the 90-day public comment period.
"Regardless of whether the lesser prairie-chicken ultimately requires protection under the ESA, its decline is a signal that our native grasslands are in trouble," said Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, regional director for the service's Southwest Region. "We know that these grasslands support not only dozens of native migratory bird and wildlife species, but also farmers, ranchers and local communities across the region."
Once found in abundant numbers across much of the five states of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, the lesser prairie-chickens' historical range of native grasslands and prairies has been reduced by an estimated 84 percent. The state of Colorado has listed the species as threatened. The service first identified the lesser prairie-chicken as a candidate for ESA protection in 1998.
The service is working with the five states to encourage voluntary conservation of the species and its habitat. Conservation agreements are currently in place in Texas and New Mexico, with another under development in Oklahoma. Additional partnerships between federal agencies and private landowners are contributing to restoring, reconnecting and conserving habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken.
Most significantly, the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Lesser Prairie Chicken and Working Lands for Wildlife initiatives have provided funding and technical assistance to private landowners seeking to improve habitat for the prairie-chicken.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is requesting comments or information from the public, governmental agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties concerning this proposed rule. Comments must be received within 90 days of its publication in the Federal Register. Publication was on December 11, 2012 making the 90 day limit March 11, 2013. More information is available online at http://www.fws.gov/southwest/ es/LPC.html.
The service will hold four public hearings (Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico) to gather public comments on the listing proposal. The closest public hearings for Bourbon County Residents are: Tuesday, Feb. 5, 6:30 p.m. in the High Plains Technology Center, 3921 34th St, Woodward, Okla., 73801 (339 miles); and Thursday, Feb. 7, 6:30 p.m., Garden City Community College, 801 N. Campus Drive, Garden City, Kan., 67846 (360 miles).
For additional information, contact Dixie Porter, Field Supervisor, Oklahoma Ecological Services Field Office, 9014 E. 21st Street, Tulsa, Okla., 74129; telephone (918) 581-7458. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.
Editor's Note: Doug Niemeir is the County Executive Director for the USDA/Farm Service Agency. Doug may be reached by emailing him at Douglas.Niemeir@ks.usda.gov.