By Cathy Cash
Electric cooperatives that face stiff land and resource restrictions because of their proximity to lesser prairie chicken habitats are urging federal officials to keep the bird off the endangered species list.
NRECA and co-op statewide associations in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas underscored their efforts to conserve the species’ population in a Jan. 10 letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These include voluntary programs that require significant involvement by the co-ops and have been formally endorsed by the FWS.
“We believe these programs and agreements, which call for substantial commitment by co-ops and landowners, can provide the level of mitigation and monitoring desired by the Fish and Wildlife Service,” said John Novak, NRECA executive director for environmental issues.
Co-ops participating in the Range-wide Conservation Plan, for example, must pay an enrollment fee that goes toward mitigation activities. Co-ops support the plan as the best solution to increase the lesser prairie chicken’s population.
“We are encouraging FWS to consider the concerns of rural co-ops within these habitats and their efforts and to conclude that a listing is not necessary,” Novak said.
The agency is expected to make a determination on by March 31 on whether to list the bird as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency extended its decision by six months, a move encouraged by senators who also asked it to consider the states’ efforts to protect the bird.
Co-op members of NRECA and the statewides and their consumer-owners own and operate transmission and distribution lines and substations within the range of the bird.