ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) — The area of protection for the lesser prairie chicken in New Mexico is expanding.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management acquired 1,789 acres of land in eastern Chaves County earlier this month that will become part of a larger, special management area for the member of the prairie grouse family. The BLM had sought the help of the Conservation Fund to consolidate land and raise funds to purchase land and grazing permits.
"We hope that other private land owners will be inspired by today's announcement and will work with federal, state and non-profit partners to establish similar strongholds for this species throughout its range," Benjamin Tuggle, the southwest regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Friday.
The chicken's range includes parts of New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Fish and Wildlife is conducting a review to determine whether the lesser prairie chicken should be formally listed as a threatened species. Ranchers, farmers and wind farm operators worry about a listing because it could increase regulations. Wind turbines, oil wells and fences are among the culprits scientists say have caused the chicken's decline.
A final decision on the listing is expected by November 2013.
Nearly 85 percent of the chicken's grass and brush-land habitat has been affected by ranching and farming. Most of it is on private land.
The Conservation Fund also purchased the grazing rights on more than 42,000 acres of public land in New Mexico and will retire them as an additional protection measure for the chicken and the dunes sagebrush lizard. Spokeswoman Ann Simonelli said the grazing permits and the land known as the Sand Ranch property were transferred to BLM hands on Friday.
No taxpayer money was used for the purchases. Simonelli said the Conservation Fund sought funding from private and other sources.
The Chaves County land is one of the most accessible places in the state to view the lesser prairie chicken in its native habitat and also has large populations of the dunes sagebrush lizard. The lesser prairie chicken has feathered feet and a stout build. Males display brilliant yellow-orange eye combs and reddish-purple air sacs during courtship displays.