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News Release

Working Lands for Wildlife Signup

Announced for Lesser Prairie-Chicken

Salina, Kansas, March 30, 2012—U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently announced the Working Lands for Wildlife (WL4W) partnership that creates a $33 million partnership with farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to use innovative approaches to restore and protect the wildlife habitats for seven identified species in specific geographic areas.

A cutoff date of Monday, April 30, has been set to rank eligible applications for funding in the first sign-up period. If funds remain, a second sign-up period will be held through Wednesday, May 30, 2012. The unique circumstances and concerns of interested historically underserved ranchers are also addressed by offering a higher payment rate for them. For more information, contact your local USDA Service Center. Phone number and address are available on the internet at offices.usda.gov.

Kansas landowners may sign up to manage and restore high-priority habitats for the lesser prairie-chicken (LEPC) within the 36 eligible Kansas counties (see map). The targeted Kansas counties include: Barber, Clark, Comanche, Edwards, Ellis, Finney, Ford, Gove, Graham, Grant, Gray, Greeley, Hamilton, Haskell, Hodgeman, Kearny, Kiowa, Lane, Logan, Meade, Morton, Ness, Pawnee, Pratt, Rush, Scott, Seward, Sheridan, Sherman, Stafford, Stanton, Stevens, Thomas, Trego, Wallace, and Wichita.

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Map - Lesser Prairie-Chicken Priority Areas (PDF; 502 KB)

“The aim of the new program is to focus available conservation dollars and wildlife expertise on the recovery of these at-risk species,” said Eric B. Banks, state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Kansas.

Lesser Prairie-ChickensThe targeted at-risk species in Kansas, the lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicintus), is a ground-nesting bird native to the rangelands of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas (see map). In the spring during the lesser prairie-chickens’ breeding season, they are known for their “gobbling” sounds and unique courtship displays on leks (booming or strutting grounds). Males attract females to the leks with elaborate dancing displays, showing off their yellow combs and red air sacs that inflate. LEPC populations declined dramatically during the past several decades due to loss of native prairie, habitat fragmentation, and degradation of habitat on both private and public lands.

By improving their habitat, ranchers are working to ensure that future generations of Americans will be able to experience these remarkable birds. Plus, the conservation activities implemented as part of the initiative help protect soil, water, and plant resources—leading to the improved productivity and sustainability of the region’s agricultural producers.

“Many expired CRP fields are feasible to graze but lack adequate fencing and water,” said Banks. “The Working Lands for Wildlife partnership offers technical and financial assistance for implementing necessary conservation practices for the lesser prairie-chicken habitat development and more efficient grazing management systems."

In Kansas, two conservation practices that improve LEPC habitat are prescribed grazing and brush management. In the past two years, Kansas landowners have been approved in 105 contracts to provide improved habitat and to reduce disturbances for the LEPC on nearly 49,000 acres. Financial assistance from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) has helped farmers and ranchers install approximately 115 miles of grazing lands perimeter fencing around Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres to prevent conversion to cropland.

For 14 years, WHIP has worked to protect, restore, or develop fish and wildlife habitat for many species, including those considered at-risk. Since 2003, about $310 million has been committed to 23,000 farmers, ranchers, and landowners to provide wildlife treatments on four million acres of private working lands.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Department of Interior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will jointly prepare species recovery tools such as informal agreements, safe harbor agreements, and habitat conservation plans to provide regulatory certainty to landowners. The goal is to have these tools in place for all priority species within the next seven months with the intent to continue this targeted species recovery work beyond this year. The seven species initially selected for this expanded campaign are: New England cottontail, bog turtle, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, greater sage-grouse, LEPC, and the Southwestern willow flycatcher.

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