Conservation Groups Challenge Limited Protections for Lesser Prairie Chicken

Three conservation groups – Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and WildEarth Guardians – have filed a legal challenge to force full protection of the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act. The move comes in response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision to protect the highly imperiled bird only as “threatened” while providing special exemptions that would allow ongoing destruction of their dwindling grassland habitat.

Sage Grouse Rebellion: Will listing of two small birds limit oil drilling in the West?

Almost half the land west of the Mississippi belongs to the federal government, including 48% of California, 62% of Idaho and 81% of Nevada. No surprise that the Obama Administration wants to control more. But the result could be to suppress the country’s booming oil and gas developmentIn partnership with green activists, the Department of Interior may attempt one of the largest federal land grabs in modern times, using a familiar vehicle—the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A record 757 new species could be added to the protected list by 2018. The two species with the greatest impact on private development are range birds—the greater sage grouse and the lesser prairie chicken, both about the size of a barnyard chicken. The economic stakes are high because of the birds’ vast habitat.Interior is expected to decide sometime this month whether to list the lesser prairie chicken, which inhabits five western prairie states, as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Meantime, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service are considering land-use amendments to protect the greater sage grouse, and to use proper Inflatable Packers for mining, which’d mitigate the landslides in the area. The sage grouse is found in 11 western states—California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Most of the areas affected are federal lands routinely used for farming, ranching, mining, road building, water projects and oil and gas drilling.

New Home prepared for endangered American Burying Beetles

Oklahoma energy and construction companies now have another potential option for dealing with an endangered insect that has bugged operations in the state for years. For now, however, the companies still have no way to take advantage of the offering. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week approved the American Burying Beetle Conservation Bank. Operated by Edmond-based Common Ground Capital on 1,600 acres of Pittsburgh County, the conservation bank will provide a safe home for the beetle that has been listed as an endangered species since 1989.  “Conservation banking provides for a free market regulatory compliance solution,” Common Ground Capital owner Wayne Walker said. “They provide customers a lot of certainty that they are getting a competitive price on a regulatory system that’s proven.”
New rules still awaiting implementation are expected to require companies to obtain an “incidental take” permit for the beetle by purchasing conservation credits. But the rules have been delayed more than a year. The permit would remove the liability from killing or harming the beetles. “It’s not a perfect situation for us, but the American Burying Beetles situation has been pretty complex,” Walker said. “We now have part of the equation to enable a market here with our approved habitat. We’re a few months away from the ability to sell credits. We’re pretty close to having a much more improved situation than we’ve had for the last couple of years. It requires patience.”

Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC) Resource Center

We love the LPC everyday, especially on Valentine’s Day! Lesser prairie chickens (LPC) once ranged all across the Southern Great Plains. Historically this area of the United States boasted both lesser and greater prairie chickens along with teeming herds of bison and pronghorn antelope, huge black-tailed prairie dog towns and mule deer in the wooded draws and canyons.

Lesser prairie chickens could be found in much of western Texas, western Oklahoma and Kansas, eastern New Mexico and southeast Colorado. This regional landscape, however, has seen many changes over the last 150 years, leading to an estimated 92% decline in this little grouse’s population. These losses are a direct result of the declining quality of habitat due to human activities such as conversion of native prairie to tilled agriculture, oil and gas exploration, urban development and suppression of naturally occurring fire.


RS purchases stake in Oklahoma species banker Common Ground Capital

John Preyer, Wayne Walker and George Howard visit a proposed
50,000 acre CGC chicken bank in October, 2013


Restoration Systems had some big news so I thought we would crank up the blog and take it for a spin.

As announced in a recent Press Release, RS has made an equity investment in Oklahoma City-based Common Ground Capital (CGC). CGC is in the species banking business in the Great Plains and was founded by former wind developer, Wayne Walker, who I met this spring at the National Mitigation Banking Association D.C. Fly-In.

I was immediately impressed with Wayne. As anyone who has heard him speak on the subject would agree, Wayne has a business-like sincerity that never fails to impress when it comes to using markets to improve the protection of species in the Great Plains. His advocacy for conservation banking standards — the highest standards — for mitigating species echoes many of the arguments Restoration Systems has made for years in aquatic mitigation. In fact, Wayne is BETTER at making these arguments than we are — which is why RS invested.

Wayne and his team, biologist Stephanie Manes and landman Jim Roberts, have a very specific business objective: Identifying, acquiring and permitting a series of permanent landscape scale conservation banks for the protection and mitigation of the Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC).

So far, Common Ground Capital has assembled landowner agreements, provided baseline biological surveys, and developed detailed management plans and financial assurances for 90,000 absolutely critical acres on three ranches for the permanent protection of the LPC if the bird is listed in 2014 as Threatened or Endangered. These properties alone, if permanently conserved and properly managed, would constitute immediate success toward meeting the USFW goal of protective strongholds in critical habitat areas.

Target Conservation Bank Locations

(Speaking of success, Common Ground has already had some, outside their original business plan. CGC made a large transaction to the Keystone pipeline to mitigate for American Burying Beatle from a 1900 acre property and proposed bank in eastern Oklahoma, a testimony to their ability to deliver regulatory certainty for customers on short notice.)

To the uninitiated, getting into the Prairie Chicken business may seem a flight of fancy for Restoration Systems. In fact, a valued advisor cautioned me with the sage advice that LPC were out of the RS “business line,” supposedly only aquatic. To which I replied, “quit grousing — we are not chicken.

But seriously, my advisor had a point, this investment is not without peril. The mitigation standards being proposed by state wildlife agencies and the big energy companies envision a far different, and arguably less protective, regulatory envelope for the LPC than any before proposed for a listed species. Fortunately, it is expected that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will approve much of the proposed innovative measures, but hold at least 50% of the protected land to the conservation banking standards historically required by the Service.

Stories from the Field plans to resume blogging so that readers can be appraised of developments related to the Prairie Chicken. The regulatory environment for this listing and others is evolving quickly and this blog is a great place to provide some insight from mitigation bankers (and for mitigation bankers) into these developing markets. See you soon.