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Federal program seeks to protect both land and landowners

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Amarillo, TX - A pending federal decision could have major repercussions for area landowners -so now wildlife authorities and ranchers are trying to strike a balance between conservation and regulation.

Since late last year, the lesser prairie chicken has been a candidate for the endangered species list.  And when a species is classified as "endangered," it brings with it new and stricter federal regulations on land use.

So a current program has state and federal wildlife authorities and landowners working together to protect both Texas land and Texas landowners.

Under the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, state and federal authorities are providing landowners with both technical and financial aid to implement better land management practices.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is advising landowners free of charge on techniques like strategic grazing and invasive plant removal.

Jeff Haley is a fifth-generation rancher near Canadian, and is participating in the program.  By doing so, Haley and others who voluntarily comply with state recommendations would not be subject to federal mandates related to the prairie chicken's status.

"We're trying to avoid a listing of that species, first and foremost, because we're trying to avoid the regulations that come with that," explains Haley.

Dick Wilberforce has been taking wildlife tourists from all over the world to see the chicken in its native habitat for 14 years, and he says the species is worth preserving.

"People say the Winchester '73 won the West; I think the prairie chicken had a great deal to do with it," says Wilberforce. "He provided food for the red man, for the early settlers, for the cattle drives, for rail workers - he's just been a very important bird through our history."

The lesser prairie chicken is ecologically important as an indicator species for the health of the range land.  And keeping the land viable is important not just for the future of the species, but also for future generations of Texans.

"I'm trying to pass this ranch down to my children," says Haley.  "And it needs sustainability, and it needs to make sense economically; it needs to thrive economically where they can make a living, pay the taxes, and support their children."

If you'd like to learn more about the program or to see if you're eligible, follow the links attached to our story.

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