Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Feds, BigOil, Ranchers, Sign "Revolutionary" Conservation Deal to Protect Chicken & Lizards

Hot News frum BigMouth Broad Casting, Dec. 10, 2008

Feds, Big-Oil & Ranchers sign 'revolutionary' conservation deal to save chickens & lizards


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management on Monday signed agreements with an oil and gas company and a rancher to help protect two rare species in southeastern New Mexico, and federal officials hope the agreements will pave the way for cooperative conservation efforts across the country.

Interior Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett called the agreements "nationally significant," saying that until now federal wildlife managers had no legal framework to partner on conservation efforts with ranchers who have federal grazing permits or energy development companies that lease public land.

"I cannot tell those gathered here how significant this is, that we find a way through these tools to collaborate across boundaries public and private. Nature itself knows no boundaries," Scarlett said during a signing ceremony at the Rio Grande Nature Center. "We need the tools that allow us to transcend those boundaries. The signing of this agreement is one such creative tool that helps us on our way."

The agreements are aimed at helping the lesser prairie chicken and the sand dune lizard, both candidates for possible protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Lesser prairie chickens are round, stocky ground-dwelling birds famous for their courtship displays. Conservationists say the species — which has been a candidate for federal protection for more than a decade — has declined by 90 percent over the past century and is facing threats that include energy development, climate change and the loss of their native prairie habitat.

The sand dune lizard, which lives among sand dunes and shinnery oak in the southeast corner of the state, has been a candidate for endangered species protection since 2002. The lizard faces many of the same threats as the chicken.

Under the conservation agreements, Lea County rancher Chris Brininstool and Marbob Energy Corp. of Artesia will take certain actions to protect the species and their habitat, including modifying fences to reduce collision by prairie chickens and relocating well sites to limit habitat disturbance.

In return, Brininstool and Marbob have assurances they will be able to continue using the land regardless whether the species ever comes under ESA protection.

Federal officials said they are in the process of getting more landowners and businesses to participate.

"No agency or group can accomplish this alone," said Benjamin Tuggle, regional director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. "Working together puts us in a stronger position to ensure conservation objectives are fulfilled."

Scarlett said the goal of the agreements is to take steps with landowners and leasees who are willing to cooperate now rather than having to list the species and force regulatory changes.

"When you think about it, listing in some respects is a signal that we haven't done our jobs, that we've let these species decline," Scarlett said. "This is a tool to do our jobs and ensure that species flourish while they still are in numbers sufficient to carry forward. I think it absolutely is a key part to 21st century conservation."

Scarlett said she hopes the agreements will serve as a model for other regions in the country that have species at risk on public lands.

But some conservation groups say the federal government is being irresponsible by trying to avoid listing the prairie chicken and lizard under the Endangered Species Act.

"We believe it makes absolutely no sense for the Fish and Wildlife Service to be talking about avoiding listing either of these species," said Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.

The group submitted comments to the agency earlier this year, saying that conservation agreements are voluntary and speculative and cannot replace the protections provided under the act. The group also argued that the agreements would not remove or reduce all of the threats facing the species, such climate change, drought and disease.

"The conservation measures are simply menus of possible tools that may be used. There are no quantitative goals for species recovery," Rosmarino said, adding that the agency is "gambling with the future" of the species.

Tuggle said the agreements do not mean the species will not be listed. He said the agreements help establish a framework for conservation that give federal wildlife managers and landowners a good starting point if listing occurs.

"We think having the opportunity to provide that level of participation up front with industry and landowners is the way of the future," he said.


On the Net:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest region:

Bureau of Land Management:

WildEarth Guardians:

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