New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
Media contact: Dan Williams, (505) 476-8004
Public contact: (505) 476-8000
dan.williams@state.nm.us

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, AUG. 7, 2008:

STATE GAME COMMISSION, DEPARTMENT OF GAME AND FISH PUT HOLD ON LESSER PRAIRIE CHICKEN HUNT, PENDING REVIEW

SANTA FE -- The State Game Commission Chairman and the Director of the Department of Game and Fish have determined that hunting permits for lesser prairie chickens will not be issued while a decision is pending from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about whether the species will be listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Commission and Department want more time to ensure that any future provisions for lesser prairie chicken hunting in New Mexico are consistent with intended conservation outcomes.

On July 21, the State Game Commission approved a structure for lesser prairie chicken hunting in New Mexico that could have begun as early as fall 2008. Any hunting under that structure would occur within a strict permit process with concurrence of the Game Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of Game and Fish. 

“Given the strong public interest in protecting this species, it’s prudent for us to take more time to work with our partners to assure that we continue to take the best approach for conserving this species and its habitat,” said Dr. Tom Arvas, State Game Commission Chairman.

Since approval of the structure, a variety of conservation and sportsmen interests have expressed concerns that such activities could conflict with long-term conservation practices that are under way and planned. 

The Game Commission and Department of Game and Fish, along with many public, private, and business partners have been engaged in extensive and active lesser prairie-chicken conservation practices for more than 20 years. Those efforts have been fruitful in recent years. More land is being managed to enhance lesser prairie chicken populations, and the number of birds in New Mexico has increased accordingly. Federal and state land management agencies, conservation organizations, soil and water conservation districts, the petroleum industry, and an array of private land owners are key partners in that effort.

“By working together with key partners, the lesser prairie chicken has made a significant comeback. We now are at a new stage where we must evaluate new practices in promoting broad-based conservation on public and private lands,” said Dr. Bruce Thompson, Director of the Department of Game and Fish. 

The State Game Commission has numerous properties under specific habitat management for lesser prairie chickens and is in the process of establishing more such areas. Private landowners and conservation organizations manage their lands similarly, while more such efforts are needed and are being organized. Rural communities embrace the vision of prairie chickens while providing stimulus for their local economies. 

The lesser prairie chicken habitat includes parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, with some of the most substantive conservation efforts under way in New Mexico. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed among those five states several years ago to promote conservation of this species and its habitat through a Prairie Conservation Initiative of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Limited hunting for lesser prairie chickens currently is provided in Kansas and Texas.

The Department and Game Commission expect to continue to engage interested parties on this topic through a variety of existing working groups, partner forums, and regular Game Commission meetings. 

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