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Wildlife Commission accepts $ 3.75 million for conservation; sets seasons for big game - 2009
The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission recently voted to secure millions of dollars for conservation projects with OG&E and Tulsa-based NatureWorks as well as set important hunting regulations and dates for new seasons on black bear, antelope, elk and others. At its April meeting, the Commission approved a memorandum of agreement with OG&E. Through the agreement, OG&E will invest $ 3.75 million to help offset the impact of the "OU Spirit" wind farm on lesser prairie chickens and other wildlife in northwest Oklahoma.
The prairie of northwest Oklahoma is home to both the state's most abundant wind resources and the lesser prairie chicken, identified as a species of greatest conservation need. "We are pleased with OG&E's offer to help balance the effects of this wind power project on wildlife habitat," said Greg Duffy, director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "The sand shinnery habitat where these wind towers are being built is widely recognized as biologically unique and it is limited to only a few counties in Oklahoma. This is a high priority landscape for us."
Funds will be used by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to protect, enhance and restore sand shinnery habitat through acquisition and conservation agreements. The contributions will be leveraged with additional federal grants and private donations. "We will continue to be a leader in drawing on Oklahoma's valuable wind resources for the benefit of our customers. But, as we do so, we also will deal responsibly with concerns about the environment and wildlife," said Brian Alford, OG&E director of corporate communications and community relations. "We expect to work closely with the Wildlife Department as we pursue our plans for more wind generation and additional transmission projects."
OG&E announced plans in September 2008 to build the 100-megawatt wind farm near Woodward. The project, already under construction, is part of a renewable energy partnership with the University of Oklahoma. Researchers have found that lesser prairie chickens avoid tall structures, such as wind turbines, because they see the towers as perches for predators such as hawks, eagles and owls. The agreement also has been endorsed by the State Secretary of Energy, Bobby Wegener, and Former Secretary of Environment, J. D. Strong. "I appreciate OG&E's willingness to reopen a project that was well underway and not only consider its potential impact on one of our most important prairie species, but also contribute capital to establish a badly needed habitat protection and restoration fund for the lesser prairie chicken," Secretary Strong said. "Today's announcement is the beginning of a great partnership between the public and private sector to deliver a workable plan that provides clean energy in a manner that recognizes the value of Oklahoma's precious wildlife."
Wildlife Department Offers Tool for Developers to Protect Critical Prairie Chicken Habitat
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) has released its new tool designed to protect and conserve imperiled lesser prairie chickens affected by land development in western Oklahoma.
″The tool, known as the Oklahoma Lesser Prairie Chicken Spatial Planning Tool, is a habitat-based model that quantifies the value of every acre within lesser prairie chicken range,″ said Russ Horton, research supervisor for the Wildlife Department. ″This tool should prove invaluable to responsible developers and planners as they search for sites where development would least impact Oklahoma′s dwindling population of lesser prairie chickens.″
The lesser prairie chicken is identified as a species of greatest conservation need in Oklahoma and is a candidate for federal listing as threatened, range-wide. The sand shinnery and sand sagebrush native rangelands of northwest Oklahoma are crucial for survival of this species. The same area also provides some of Oklahoma′s most abundant sources of energy including wind, oil and natural gas. Efforts to harvest this energy are projected to rapidly intensify over the next few years.
″Oklahoma′s wind industry will provide a clean source of domestically produced energy that will contribute to our state′s future economic growth,″ noted Secretary of Energy Robert Wegener. ″It is critical for this industry and others impacting the prairies of western Oklahoma to utilize tools such as this.
Former Secretary of Environment J. D. Strong added, ″If the wind industry is to remain ′green,′ and others want to demonstrate their concern for our environment, then necessary steps such as this must be taken to avoid endangering Oklahoma′s few remaining lesser prairie chickens. I strongly encourage everyone engaged in energy development in western Oklahoma to utilize this valuable new tool to plan future projects that protect, rather than destroy, one of our state′s most threatened prairie species.″
Researchers have found that lesser prairie chickens, particularly nesting hens, avoid vertical structures because they are often used as perches by predators such as hawks, eagles and owls. Habitat fragmentation caused by a number of factors including transmission lines, roads and highways, buildings and tree encroachment into prairie habitats, as well as conversion of native rangeland to cropland or non-native vegetation, can all be detrimental to lesser prairie chickens.
″The Wildlife Department understands that developers must consider a number of factors when planning locations but strongly encourages developers to use this tool in the planning process to minimize or eliminate negative impacts on the prairie chicken and their associated habitats,″ Horton said.
The Oklahoma Lesser Prairie Chicken Spatial Planning Tool was developed in cooperation with the Secretary of Environment, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, OSU Extension, G. M. Sutton Avian Research Center and the Playa Lakes Joint Venture.
″Tools such as the Oklahoma Lesser Prairie Chicken Spatial Planning Tool, in conjunction with on-going prairie conservation actions, will be important to strategically conserve the prairie chicken and it′s habitat and to preclude the need to list the species under the Endangered Species Act, all while still meeting the energy needs of the United States,″ said Ken Frazier, assistant field supervisor for the Oklahoma Ecological Services Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In addition to helping determine areas where development would least impact prairie chickens, the Spatial Planning Tool also can be used in assessing the cost of developments within the lesser prairie chicken′s range, as well as to prioritize areas and costs for prairie chicken habitat restoration and recovery efforts. If it is necessary to site a project or structure in an area that will impact lesser prairie chickens, the Department hopes developers will use the tool to determine a voluntary contribution to offset the impacts of that development.
The Oklahoma Lesser Prairie Chicken Spatial Planning Tool, available on the ODWC web site, is provided in formats compatible with both GIS (.img) and Google Earth (.kmz). Maps in both 8.5″ x 14″ and 33″ x 44″ are also available.
″The unique habitats found in northwest Oklahoma are invaluable to wildlife as well as to wind energy development, so the Wildlife Department and energy developers have to work together to ensure that our state′s wildlife heritage remains strong,″ Horton said. ″To that end, we have used the model to create maps showing areas where wind resources are suitable for development, with minimal effect or no effects at all on the lesser prairie chicken.″