Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): lesser prairie-chicken

How the farm bill helps landowners and wildlife thrive together

This week, the Senate advanced a farm bill that includes many important provisions for conservation on America’s working farms, ranches and forestlands. Among these provisions is language codifying the Working Lands for Wildlife program that helps farmers and ranchers restore habitat for at-risk wildlife. It’s the first time the program has been formally recognized in the farm bill.

Thanks to the work of private landowners, conservation groups, tribes, and state and government agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided in September 2015 to remove the New England cottontail from the endangered species candidate list due to recovery. (Photo credit: Brian Tefft, Principal Wildlife Biologist at Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife.)

Through the Natural Resources Conservation Service program, USDA provides technical and financial assistance to landowners who voluntarily make improvements to wildlife habitat on their property. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pairs this with regulatory predictability under the Endangered Species Act.

It’s a win-win approach for improving agricultural productivity while enhancing habitat for wildlife.

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Let’s make ESA listings extinct, not wildlife

Prairie-chicken

The listing process for the lesser prairie-chicken was tumultuous, with a 2016 ruling that stripped the bird of its previous federal protections and sparked questions about ESA implementation, in addition to what moral obligation humans have to protect wildlife. Photo credit: USDA NRCS

Since the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing two weeks ago to discuss the “Modernization of the Endangered Species Act (ESA),” a new public debate over the act’s effectiveness has begun, even if the arguments on each side haven’t changed much.

On one hand, reform proponents point to the fact that only 47 of 1,652 species have been removed from the Endangered Species List since 1973. On the other, the act’s defenders note that nearly every species on the list has been saved from extinction.

Yet those may be the wrong metrics. Instead, we may want to ask why those species end up on the list in the first place, and whether we are taking common-sense approaches to wildlife conservation before they do. Read More »

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What if God wants the lesser prairie-chicken to go extinct?

Lesser prairie-chicken. Photo credit: USDA NRCS

Lesser prairie-chicken. Photo credit: USDA NRCS

A version of this piece previously ran as an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle.

A few years ago, I was invited by Texas farmer David Cleavinger to visit his family’s farm near Amarillo. This was during a period of time when my organization, Environmental Defense Fund, was deeply involved in conservation efforts for the lesser prairie-chicken, a colorful bird whose habitat is in decline throughout its five-state range, which includes the panhandle of Texas.

David picked me up at the airport and asked if we could make a quick stop on the way to his farm. That stop turned out to be at local radio station KGNC, where David had arranged for me to go on air and talk about wildlife conservation with a particular focus on the local implications for efforts to revive the lesser prairie-chicken.

I agreed to join the show with some trepidation, but it quickly subsided as we got into a lively discussion with the host, James Hunt, and several listeners. Toward the end of my appearance, a caller asked a surprising and provocative question – What if God wants the prairie-chicken to go extinct? Read More »

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Lesser prairie-chicken numbers are up. Is it good conservation or just good weather?

2015 marked the end of a five year drought, bringing much needed relief to the parched prairie region. But climate impacts such as drought and wildfires are only expected to increase in duration and frequency in the future, so one wet year is not going to be sufficient to protect lesser prairie-chickens in the long run.

2015 marked the end of a five-year drought, bringing relief to the parched prairie region. But climate impacts like drought and wildfires are only expected to increase in the future, threatening lesser prairie-chicken recovery efforts. Credit: Lesser Prairie Chicken via photopin (license)

Recent media reports have touted population rebounds for the lesser prairie-chicken – up 25 percent from last year. That’s great news for the bird, which was nearly wiped out in recent years as booming oil and gas industries encroached on the bird’s range across Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bird as “threatened” in March 2015, at the same time that the five states embarked on a conservation plan of their own. The plan was officially assembled and endorsed by the five members of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA).

Now that bird numbers are up, WAFWA is claiming success – attributing the chicken’s rebound to effective implementation of their Lesser Prairie-Chicken Rangewide Conservation Plan (RWP). Certainly that program has provided some benefit, but the key question is whether the program has been a big enough boost to set the lesser prairie-chicken on a path to recovery. Read More »

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My life’s work: Building strategies for ag and industry to protect wildlife

Could the monarch butterfly be the next passenger pigeon? Read more in Modern Farmer.

Could the monarch butterfly face the same plight of the passenger pigeon? Read more in Modern Farmer.

When I think about what motivates me as a conservationist, I often reflect on the bird species we’ve lost – the Carolina parakeet, the ivory-billed woodpecker, the passenger pigeon.

I remember these species when I work to create pathways to prevent extinction for today’s at-risk wildlife – the lesser prairie-chicken, the golden-cheeked warbler and the greater sage-grouse.

But it’s not just the birds that inspire me. It’s also the people.

My role as director of conservation strategy and habitat markets often requires me to cultivate partnerships with ranchers, farmers, oilmen and large multinational corporations. It’s incredibly satisfying to work with this diverse set of stakeholders to find common ground. Sure, we all have different interests driving us, but I am steadfast in my belief that we can protect natural resources, while at the same time enabling the responsible production of food, fuel and fiber. Read More »

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Grasslands protocol opens another carbon market for farmers

GrasslandsGrowers with grasslands on their property have a new reason to leave that land untouched.

On July 22, the Climate Action Reserve, a non-profit organization that creates offset standards and serves as one of the offset registries for California’s cap-and-trade program, approved a new protocol that rewards farmers for avoiding the conversion of grasslands to cropland.

The new “grasslands protocol” highlights a growing trend in agriculture: farmers being paid for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Read More »

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Farmers and ranchers can help bring birds back from the brink

A raptor adapted to the open grasslands, the Swainson's hawk has become increasingly dependent on agriculture, especially alfalfa crops, as native communities are converted to agricultural lands.

A raptor adapted to the open grasslands, the Swainson’s hawk has become increasingly dependent on agriculture in California, especially alfalfa crops, as native communities are converted to agricultural lands.

The 2014 State of the Birds report, released this week, sends a message that is both somber and hopeful: we can bring vulnerable bird species back from the brink of extinction, but there is a lot of work to be done.

While some once-abundant species have rebounded in response to habitat restoration and management, others continue to decline. If we want to put our nation’s birds on a path to recovery, farmers and ranchers have a critical role to play.

Success stories show the way

Iconic bird species like bald eagles, brown pelicans and peregrine falcons that were once teetering on the edge of extinction are thriving again. California condors, with their spectacular 10-foot wingspans, went extinct in the wild in 1987. Today, 225 individuals soar once again over several western states.

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