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The lesser prairie chicken is at the center of the latest endangered species brouhaha. But cooperation, rather than conflict, seems to be the path forward.
Webb is one of many ranchers in prairie chicken country to develop a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA). A CCAA is a voluntary conservation plan put together with the help of wildlife biologists that takes into account the needs of the rancher to make a living while providing habitat assurances for the prairie chicken.
In essence, Bonner says, the CCAA is a permit that allows for incidental taking of prairie chicken habitat by certain management practices, such as brush control, prescribed fire, water development, grazing and others – all practices that enhance prairie chicken habitat as well as cattle production.
“The conservation part is the landowner agreeing to do things for prairie chicken habitat. The assurances part of that is that he can’t be prosecuted for incidental take and the feds can’t show up and ask him to do anything that’s not already listed in the management plan,” Bonner says.
All five states offer some form of a CCAA, says Jon Ungerer, Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative coordinator with the NRCS in Manhattan, KS. In some states, it might be USFWS staff they work with, he explains, or NRCS can develop a plan.
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“A producer entering into and agreeing to follow a Working Lands for Wildlife contract with NRCS is provided 30 years of certainty if they agree to implement the plan for 30 years,” he says.
The biologists say a CCAA or similar plan is important because, should USFWS determine that the lesser prairie chicken is threatened, landowners who aren’t protected by a conservation plan can’t do anything that might result in an incidental taking of habitat. That could include normal management practices such as controlled burning, fencing and even grazing.
That’s why both Bonner and De Leon encourage all landowners in prairie chicken country, even if they don’t have birds on their property, to consider a CCAA.
“We have just a little over 400,000 acres (in Texas) signed up in these CCAAs,” Bonner says. “The higher percentage of our prairie chicken country that we get signed up between now and this fall, the better ammo that USFWS has to not list the bird.”
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