Commissioner concerned about possible prairie chicken placement

By Thomas Garcia: QCS staff writer

An area county commissioner fears efforts to rejuvenate the declining lesser prairie chicken populations by the New Mexico Game and Fish authorities might effect wind turbine development for landowners.

Bobby Casados, chair of the Harding County Commission, last month shared his concerns about the birds’ placement with the members of the New Mexico Association of Counties.

“I just want landowners to know about the red tape and restrictions that could come from placing the birds on their land,” Casados said.

The NMGF Department has met with some strong opposition from landowners when it comes to the birds’ placement, said NMGF Biologist Grant Beauprez.

“We have received overwhelming input from landowners that do not want to have birds on their property,” Beauprez said. “At this point it does not look like birds will be placed in Quay or Harding County.”

Beauprez said the NMGF wants to ensure landowners they are not going to be forced to place the birds on their property.

“If we place birds we will need to work out an agreement with the landowner,” Beauprez said.

Beauprez said across the Midwest prairie chicken population numbers have been declining in recent years. He said there had been increases in New Mexico and Texas. Oklahoma, and Kansas are showing stable numbers, he said. However there are only a few hundred birds remaining in Southeast Colorado.

“They (lesser prairie chicken) are currently a candidate species,” Beauprez said. “What that means is they are on a list to be placed as an endangered species.”

Beauprez said by expanding the bird’s range it has a potential to help NMGF prevent that but there are no guarantees.

One of the concerns Casados expressed is that structures more than 10 feet tall, such as wind turbines, would not be allowed on landowners’ property if the lesser prairie chicken were placed there.

“Research shows that lesser prairie chickens tend to avoid tall structures,” Beauprez said. “Fragmented land by large wind turbines is a concern with potential placement areas.”

This is not a problem in Roosevelt County since the wind development projects are on the western side of the county and there are no prairie chickens located in that area, said David Sanders, County Commission chair.

Beauprez said most wind companies are willing to speak with wildlife agencies to place the turbines away from potential nesting locations. He said windmills are not a factor that would effect the birds. They do not fragment the landscape like a row of wind towers.

The decline of the numbers in the birds is not directly linked to wind turbines, Beauprez said. He said there are many factors such as predators, drought conditions, fragmentation due to land by urbanization, agriculture and wind development.

“Last year a large hail storm during the nesting season caused a decline in New Mexico’s primary population located near Milnesand in Roosevelt County,” Beauprez said.

Another concern Casados talked about was the prevention of any type of hunting on land where the birds are placed for a period of two years.

“We would like to have a period of no hunting,” Beauprez said. “But that is not set in stone and is negotiable.”

Sanders said there have been complaints or concerns about hunting but he has received a few concerns about grazing during their nesting time.

“The state does not want landowners grazing in the area where the birds are nesting and hatching their eggs,” Sanders said. “Other than that we have had no problems with the birds in Roosevelt County.”

Currently the NMGF is continuing to investigate placing the birds into suitable habitats that are unoccupied, with landowners’ permission.