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We can save Lesser Prairie Chicken and ranching

As ranchers from New Mexico, Texas and Kansas, we are here to tell you the proposed listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken spells trouble for our property rights. It complicates or eliminates the chance to use our pastures and fields for almost everything – from ranching to farming to oil extraction, even renewable energy. It seems the only choice we will be left with is leaving the LPC to fend for itself. The problem is that, to date, government doesn’t pay well enough for our ranches to stay in conservation.

Last time the LPC was listed, our state governments had a “solution” billed as a way for us to keep ranching, save the LPC and even make some money. Well folks, out here in the High Plains we know government bureaucracy and failed government programs when we see them. Such was the case with the Western Alliance of Fish and Wildlife Agencies – WAFWA – LPC conservation and easement program. WAFWA failed to deliver on-the-ground conservation and wasted $40 million of precious industry money along the way. We won’t belabor the point, but we wouldn’t be writing this if WAFWA’s program was successful. Because now the LPC is proposed for relisting. It’s now clear the LPC needs real solutions, and us ranchers need real solutions, too.

The Endangered Species Act now proposes that the Lesser Prairie Chicken be listed as endangered in New Mexico and West Texas, where there are fewer than 6,000, and threatened in Kansas where there are fewer than 20,000. Truth be told, these levels are really near to extinction.

The Kizer Ranch in Pep, N.M., has set aside 10,000 acres for a permanent easement for LPC through a private-sector program called “conservation banking.” Basically, we are paid a market price to permanently protect intact rangelands along with our neighbors, including the Nature Conservancy’s Smoky Valley Ranch nearby. In Yoakum County, Texas, Holgate Land & Cattle and Williams Ranch & Mineral have set aside 3,000 acres adjoining Texas Parks & Wildlife’s Yoakum Dunes Wildlife Management Area.

Likewise, the Hoeme Family HRC ranch in Gove County, Kansas, has set aside 9,000 acres for native habitat on the prairie – and that is world-renowned as LPC mating grounds. This lek – aggregation of male animals – has the most dense population of birds per acre anywhere. The Gardiner family Angus Ranch in Ashland, Kansas, has over 20,000 acres of land ready for these same market-based conservation easements.

The LPC needs tens of thousands of acres of contiguous habitat in the right places across the High Plains that is permanently protected from development. The LPC has been losing habitat for too many years. We need to protect the best of what is left today and start restoring adjacent lands to expand their habitat soon after.

The answer now, with the new ESA listing decision this week, is to let private markets provide industry with effective offsets that give them ESA protection while rewarding ranchers who harbor the last populations of this bird due to their good stewardship so they can continue making a living.

To us it’s clear the only solution for the LPC, an invaluable native species of the Great Plains, is to let private conservation markets run the LPC’s recovery program. We need conservation that lasts. We need it now. Stop moving the goal posts for the bureaucracy and let us actually save the LPC.

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