Carrots for conservation

A new conservation program that gives landowners incentives to improve habitat for lizard and prairie chicken.


For two imperiled New Mexico species -- a spiny, sand dune-loving lizard and a small, feather-footed prairie chicken with an elaborate courtship dance -- big things are happening.

On March 2nd, New Mexico state land commissioner, Ray Powell, made history when, with the stroke of a pen, he added 248,000 acres of state trust lands in the southeastern part of the state to a Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA) aimed at protecting the imperiled sand dune lizard and lesser prairie chicken.  It's the single largest chunk of land ever enrolled in a CCA, a conservation program that gives landowners incentives to voluntarily improve habitat for species that are considered candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act. 

"There are probably no other sign-ups in state land offices in the Western U.S. that would equal 1/100th of what was just done," says Doug Burger, Pecos District Manager for the Bureau of Land Management. "It's massive."

The lesser prairie chicken occurs in parts of New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma while the sand dune lizard is found only in the shinnery-oak dunes of southeastern New Mexico and Texas.

The New Mexico CCA for the two species also includes a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) that applies specifically to private and state landowners and gives these non-federal users "assurances" from the Fish & Wildlife Service that they won't face additional land-use restrictions if a species is listed or be responsible for habitat improvements beyond what the agreement already requires. Because federal agencies have legal obligations to protect listed species, the Service can only provide these "assurances" to CCAA participants. For federal landowners, such as the BLM, and land users, such as oil and gas companies, who enroll under a CCA, the agency offers up a "high degree of certainty" that additional conservation measures will not be required if the candidate species is listed. The conservation measures participants in both programs can take include installing markers barbed-wire fences to help prairie chickens avoid fatal collisions during migration, removing invasive mesquite from the lizard's sensitive dune habitat; minimizing habitat disturbance for both species by co-locating oil wells and pads; and burying any new power lines that lie within 2 miles of prairie-chicken-occupied habitat (to name just a few).

The agreements -- which were formalized in 2008 and developed cooperatively by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, BLM, and the Center for Excellence in Hazardous Materials Management (CEHMM), a New Mexico-based non-profit organization focused on reducing the impact of hazardous materials on the environment -- are the first of their kind to protect species across both public and private land, reported HCN in 2009.

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