Wind versus chicken

John Hughes, USFWS Biologist
John Hughes, USFWS Biologist

Landowners in the Texas panhandle are weighing their land development options.

They are deciding whether or not to participate in a 10-year program to protect the lesser prairie chicken, a fowl getting closer to the endangered species list.

Many landowners who currently own continuous conservation reserve program, or CRP land, are eligible for payments and incentives.

The USDA Farm Service Agency will offer the following types of payments for the CP38E Program:

  • $100/acre Signup Incentive Payments from FSA
  • $10.acre additional Signup Incentive payment from Texas Parks and Wildlife
  • 50% cost share for eligible reimbursable practice installation cost
  • 40% Practice Incentive Payment on the eligible practice installation cost
  • Up to 15 years of annual rental payments and maintenance costs
  • 50% cost share of required mid-contract management practice costs
  • Optional: Free technical assistance developing a prairie chicken management plan from TPWD or USFWS staff.

Many feel like programs like these demand too much, and will mean they cannot use their land for wind energy development, which has huge financial incentives.

Texas Parks and Wildlife and the US Fish and Wildlife service say that doesn't have to be true.

"We aren't trying to tell people what to do with their land, but were trying to juggle these competing interests," said John Hughes, USFWS Biologist.

Officials say immediate environment conservation is needed to stop the drop in the lesser prairie chicken's population.

Landowners say they care about the environment and wildlife, but they are also concerned about their families' financial well being.

"If it was my choice between enrolling in a prairie chicken program or the prospect of wind energy, I'm going to choose wind energy," said landowner Mike Brumley.

Many landowners were concerned that the partnership would prevent them from entering into contracts with wind energy development companies.

Farm and Wildlife representatives said a plan in place to compromise development now would prevent land owners from missing out on wind energy contracts.

"The perfect compromise [would be to] identify areas of high wind resources that are marginal lesser prairie chicken habitat, develop wind energy there, and try to set aside enough habitat there to at least stabilize prairie chicken population," said Hughes.

But some landowners worried this is another stall tactic to prevent them from any economic development.

The Fish and Wildlife service says planning for endangerment now will prevent anyone from having to stop their land development.

"We're not trying to slow down anybody, we have just created the perfect storm," said Hughes.  "We have several competing uses for the same parcel of land. That really forces you to plan and try to conserve things and consider compromises."

Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists say the birds have not adapted to human development and stay far away from any type of tall structure, like silos and wind turbines.

Officials tells NewsChannel10 wind energy development companies understand the need to protect the birds and are willing to negotiate where they can put wind turbines.

Right now, this program is strictly voluntary.

That situation may change if the lesser prairie chicken is listed as an endangered species.