Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Land purchase to help rare grouse

Albuquerque, N.M. (AP) — A rare grouse found in a handful of
Western and Midwestern states is getting some extra help in
southeastern New Mexico thanks to a land purchase that will protect
thousands of acres for the bird.

The Nature Conservancy announced Thursday it has purchased the
9,170-acre Johnson Ranch, which contains prime habitat for the
lesser prairie chicken and other species in need of
conservation.

The lesser prairie chicken – a stocky ground-dwelling bird found
in parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas – has
been on the endangered species candidate list for more than a
decade. In December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raised the
bird’s status on the list to one of the most urgent categories.

“We’re at a critical juncture where most would feel that the
population of the bird has dropped precipitously, but we’re
beginning to see signs that it is recovering. So now is an
important time to protect the habitat that’s needed to ensure that
we get a stable population,” said Bob Findling, director of land
protection and stewardship for The Nature Conservancy in New
Mexico.

Findling said the Johnson Ranch is next to the 18,500-acre
Milnesand Preserve, also owned by the conservancy, and is near tens
of thousands of acres of southern shortgrass prairie habitat
protected by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in
Roosevelt and Lea counties.

The ranch – a mix of shinery oak and prairie grasses – will
serve as a “strategic” bridge between the area’s other suitable
habitats, giving the lesser prairie chicken even more space for its
famous courtship displays.

Findling said there are about 100 leks, or breeding sites,
between the preserve and the ranch.

The ranch purchase was made with help from the Doris Duke
Charitable Foundation, which provided $600,000, and the state of
New Mexico, which added nearly $400,000.

Findling would not disclose the price of the ranch.

The Nature Conservancy said the preserve and the ranch are
leased for grazing at low stocking rates that will conserve the
prairie chicken habitat.

“The ranching economics are respected, traditional use is
respected and wildlife habitat conservation is factored in,”
Findling said.

Aside from the work of The Nature Conservancy and the Game and
Fish Department, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of
Land Management recently entered into conservation agreements with
landowners in the region to help the lesser prairie chicken.

Conservation groups have been pushing the federal government to
grant the lesser prairie chicken protection under the Endangered
Species Act for years, saying the bird has declined by more than 90
percent over the past century and is facing threats that include
energy development, climate change and the loss of habitat.

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