The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's designation of the lesser prairie chicken as threatened set off a wave of concern coming from agriculture and energy-related interests that the designation would have adverse effects on agriculture and gas and oil operations across Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and other states.
A Kansas State University extension wildlife expert said in a news release Thursday that the designation likely would change nothing for row crop farmers, but likely would require ranchers and others enrolled in the conservation reserve program, or CRP, to take additional conservation steps to secure wildlife habitats for the lesser prairie chicken.
According to the KSU release the designation was needed because lesser prairie chicken populations were down significantly. The new designation is to go into effect during the first full week of May.
According to KSU extension the range-wide population of the lesser prairie chicken declined to a record low 17,616 -- an almost 50% reduction from the 2012 population estimate.
Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado have a conservation plan that sets a population goal of 67,000 birds range-wide for a 10-year average.
Lee said the listing could pose a challenge for some landowners in western Kansas where the bird is prevalent.
That would include making "significant" habitat changes to meet the 67,000-bird decade goal.
"And those changes will most likely have to come from livestock ranchers and grazers implementing conservation practices that benefit lesser prairie chickens," according to KSU. "More normal rainfall patterns would also be beneficial."
Lee said most crop producers would not be affected by the listing because a section of the Endangered Species Act exempts most routine farming activities including agricultural practices on cultivated lands in crop production as well as maintenance of infrastructure.
"However, they decided as part of the rule that properly managed grazing is important for lesser prairie chickens, and improperly managed grazing can impact them in a negative manner," Lee said in a statement.
"Haying of native grass might not be allowed. It's not specified, but I think it could probably be implied, that a grazing plan could be required."
He said it is likely that ranchers would face more changes for grazing. That could include allowing only a certain number of livestock on particular rangeland and limiting the length of time they are allowed to graze.
Lee said the lesser prairie chicken uses cropland for a "minor amount of food certain times of the year."
Rod Winkler, USDA program specialist for CRP in Kansas, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Farm Service Agency is developing a conferencing document, or biological assessment, on the effects the listing will have on the conservation reserve program.
He said there would be protections for CRP participants to permit them to make management decisions on their land.
"There will, however, be some differences in a couple of areas, such as early land preparation," Winkler said in a statement.
"At the end of some contracts, early land prep can begin as early as May 1. We do not believe the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will allow policy to permit action that early. It will be more in line with the end of the nesting season."
The conferencing document will provide more answers on how CRP in Kansas will be affected by the listing.
For more information go to, http://www.ksre.k-state.edu/….
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