From The Associated Press
PORTALES, N.M. — The lesser prairie chicken is not endangered but is in need of a better managed habitat, wildlife officials have announced.
The Portales News-Tribune reports the findings come after a survey recently completed by federal and local wildlife agencies.
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies' Grassland Initiative said a population count of around 37,000 prairie chickens means is that wildlife officials have not only discovered that the prairie chicken is not endangered, but officials now have vast opportunities to learn more about the bird's habitat.
"Surveys in the past have been done on a state-by-state level," said WAFWA spokesman Bill Van Pelt. "But states have different methods, so they weren't necessarily statistically valid. With this (range-wide) methodology, we can say with some certainty, this is the range of the lesser prairie chicken."
The surveys were conducted from March to May and encompassed more than 300,000 square miles, according to the wildlife group.
The chicken's range of living includes New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas, said Van Pelt.
News of the finding came as a relief to ranchers, farmers and wind farms operators who have expressed concerns about listing the lesser prairie chicken as endangered. The listing would regulate land use and add cost since new rules might require replacing and marking fences and improved pasture management.
"We are very pleased that ranchers were able to work out an agreement," Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, told The Associated Press. "There is 'no one size fits all' and ranchers are not opposed to voluntarily taking take of animals."
Van Pelt said the most recent survey of the five states, performed via helicopter, was the joint effort of WAFWA, the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group, the Bureau of Land Management and West Ecosystems Inc.
Van Pelt said the four organizations surveyed the various prairie chicken nests, called leks, across the five states, observing their numbers and habitats.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife in the five states will choose focus areas in their states to study and keep an eye on the bird's habitat with localized meetings being held to determine how each state will contribute to the management plan.