Wind energy companies that expect to develop farms across the chickens' habitat began work on habitat conservation plans three years ago and hope to have one finalized in March, said John Anderson, director of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association. He declined to share details of the plan.
"We really want to try to be as proactive as possible to show it's not necessary to go forward with the final listing," Anderson said.
The Environmental Defense Fund also is helping by setting up voluntary habitat exchanges with ranchers and farmers to create and maintain vital spaces for the chicken. Energy companies and other developers pay landowners to mitigate land use to meet their obligations to offset wildlife impacts.
Lesli Gray with the federal wildlife service in Dallas said the agency is encouraging all conservation planning to help the prairie chicken but would not say whether this would influence the agency's final decision, expected this fall. However, landowners and industry who have a wildlife management plan in place would avoid further restrictions if the lesser prairie chicken moves from candidate status to threatened.
"Those are all good things," she said. "We look forward to getting that information."
The third of four public hearings by the wildlife service is scheduled for Monday night in Lubbock. One in Roswell, N.M., is set for Tuesday.
Southern Great Plains Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool: http://kars.ku.edu/maps/sgpchat/
Federal Register: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-12-11/pdf/2012-29331.pdf
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