Woodward, Okla. —
AN ALTERNATIVE: WILDLIFE HABITAT EXCHANGES
Karen Askeland, communications assistant with the Environmental Defense Fund speaking on behalf of Conservation Science Director David Wolfe, proposed another alternative preservation measure.
"Our solution, known as Wildlife Habitat Exchanges, works by offering ranchers and farmers the opportunity to voluntarily create and maintain vital lesser prairie chicken habitat. Energy companies and other developers pay the landowners for this "mitigation service" in order to meet their obligations to offset wildlife impacts."
Askeland listed the benefits of the proposal, saying Wildlife Habitat Exchanges give farmers and ranchers another revenue stream while avoiding potentially contentious political battles in favor of a positive framework that promotes wildlife recovery and economic prosperity.
She backed up these claims saying, "We've seen this type of exchange program work in Texas at Fort Hood Army base where neighboring ranchers contributed to growing populations of golden cheeked warblers."
"A similar tool was adopted by the US Fish and Wildlife agency for the dunes sagebrush lizard in Texas as well," she said. "We are confident that this solution can work for the lesser prairie chicken and put the bird on a positive trajectory in the short timeframe we have."
VIEWS FROM STATE ENERGY LEADERS AND AREA RANCHERS
The Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association's Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Brian Woodard, Environmental Director at OG&E Energy Corp Usha Turner, Angie Burckhalter with Devon Energy all expressed concern for about what the listing of the prairie chicken would entail for the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma.
They were concerned about the restrictions that such a listing would put on drilling in prairie chicken habitat areas and the negative effect that would have on the Oklahoma economy.
Director of Regulatory Affairs for the Oklahoma Farm Bureau Marla Peek addressed the board as a representative of farmers ranchers and rural residents. Peek commended the current conservation efforts in place at the state level and encouraging the US Fish and Wildlife Service to, rather than step in with federal regulation, find more means of providing economic incentives for farmers and ranchers to preserve the birds that reside on their privately owned land.
Several area ranchers also addressed the board to state their concerns as well.
Alan Jett, a rancher out of Beaver County whose ranch resides in the middle of the prairie chickens' habitat stated, "I think I can speak for my fellow ranchers when I say we'd like to keep efforts on a more local, state level. If you want our help we need solid science to tell us what needs done and the economic incentives to do so. The majority of these birds reside on privately owned land, you really need us to work with you, so that's how this is going to work."
After everyone present at Tuesday's meeting who was interested in speaking was given an opportunity to do so, the board thanked the crowd on behalf of the US Fish and Wildlife Services for the good points they made and assured them that their comments would be fully considered before coming to final decision.