(WOODWARD, Okla.—February 5, 2013) Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) conducted the first of four public hearings to obtain comments on the Service’s proposal to list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. A spokesperson from Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) attended the initial meeting in Woodward, Okla., to speak on behalf of David Wolfe, EDF’s Texas Regional Wildlife Director. Wolfe provided the following statement:
“Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)’s guiding principle is ‘finding the ways that work,’ and that’s what we’re hopeful we can accomplish for the lesser prairie chicken in the coming months.
“Our solution, known as Wildlife Habitat Exchanges, works by offering ranchers and farmers the opportunity to voluntarily create and maintain vital lesser prairie chicken habitat. Energy companies and other developers pay the landowners for this ‘mitigation service’ in order to meet their obligations to offset wildlife impacts.
“With an energy boom in the West, Wildlife Habitat Exchanges allow for responsible oil, gas, wind and other development to continue while also contributing measurable conservation benefits for wildlife. EDF is already speaking to energy developers, farmers and ranchers, and we believe that together we can create positive results for everyone. To guarantee these results, EDF and our energy, agriculture and conservation partners are building this exchange tool with the best available science in mind. This ensures that farmers and ranchers are providing mitigation services truly valuable for species recovery.
“Wildlife Habitat Exchanges give farmers and ranchers another revenue stream, making habitat services another commodity provided by the agriculture community, since many of their operations are compatible with the habitat needs of the lesser prairie chicken.
“It’s critical that lesser prairie chicken mitigation be done in partnership with these private landowners, as most of the bird’s remaining habitat is on private lands.
“We’ve seen this type of exchange program work in Texas at the Fort Hood Army base where neighboring ranchers contributed to growing populations of golden cheeked warblers. A similar tool was adopted by your agency for the dunes sagebrush lizard in Texas.
“We are confident that this solution can work for the lesser prairie chicken and put the bird on a positive trajectory in the short timeframe that we have. But we need to all be working together if we are going to achieve our common goals. Wildlife Habitat Exchanges already work in concert with landscape scale conservation plans, such as the five-state plan under development for the lesser prairie chicken.
“By supporting this approach, you can help turn a potentially contentious political battle into a positive framework for wildlife recovery and economic prosperity.
“We are excited about the potential for these exchanges to provide a new, fast and cost-effective framework for conservation in America, starting here in Oklahoma.”