This Op Ed was written in response to the article titled “’It’s our place to take care of them’: New Mexico landowners fight to save lesser prairie chicken” published by the Carlsbad Current-Argus on April 9, 2021.
In November 2011, I moved to Carlsbad, N.M., for a Wildlife Biologist position with CEHMM, a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation that has created a wide range of programs that work toward issues that affect both human health and the environment. These projects serve the community, the region, and the state through conservation, education, job creation, and research leading to solutions for environmental and technical challenges. Initially, my husband and I thought Carlsbad would be a one- or two-year transition. Because of the programs CEHMM has to offer, we have grown to love and consider Carlsbad to be home for us and our two daughters.
In 2008 CEHMM, in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, finalized agreements that provide a mechanism to conserve the Lesser Prairie-Chicken and the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard by bringing landowners, oil and gas companies, and biologists together. These agreements, called Candidate Conservation Agreements (CCAs) and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs) are agreements between landowners, industry, and CEHMM that support conservation for the two species while allowing work to continue on the landscape. Both agreements protect the Lesser Prairie-Chicken and Dunes Sagebrush Lizard habitats on federal and non-federal lands. These voluntary agreements allow CEHMM to develop, coordinate, and implement conservation actions which reduce or eliminate threats to the species while keeping landowners and industry working.
Since we first developed these programs, CEHMM has enrolled 41 oil and gas operators and 70 local ranchers, totaling around 3.6 million acres of enrolled land throughout the range of the species in southeastern New Mexico. Among other projects, CEHMM has treated approximately 84,000 acres of mesquite and removed more than 10,000 acres of dead standing mesquite skeletons, which has created habitat for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. We have installed approximately 700 escape ramps, which allow mechanisms for animals, such the Lesser Prairie-Chicken, to escape from water troughs. We have replaced 30 water troughs and 130 miles of fence both of which allow ranchers and livestock managers to utilize the landscape more effectively, improving habitat for the species. Each year we intensively survey the species and monitor our projects to ensure our program is effective. CEHMM team members are on the ground every day working with our partners and our enrollees to reduce or eliminate threats to the Lesser Prairie Chickens and the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard – we are always striving to prevent a listing of the species, helping to keep industry and landowners alike working.
Since the mid-1990s, several petitions have been filed to list the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard and Lesser Prairie-Chicken as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew the rule that proposed a listing of the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard citing CEHMM’s conservation efforts through the CCA/CCAA Programs as one of the reasons for the withdrawal (https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2012/06/19/2012-14818/endangered-and-threatened-wildlife-and-plants-withdrawal-of-the-proposed-rule-to-list-dunes). It is as a result of the efforts of our enrollees and partners and the work our CEHMM team does on the landscape through the conservation programs, that this withdrawal occurred.
I’m oftentimes asked why I stay in Carlsbad when my family is 2,000 miles across the country. This is why. I believe in CEHMM’s programs, the work we are doing on the ground for the species, and in our partnerships and our enrollees. These agreements are working; CEHMM is making a difference not only for the species but also for our community!
Emily Wirth is the Executive Director for CEHMM, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization located in Carlsbad, NM. For more information on our conservation programs or our Environmental Services division, please visit https://www.cehmm.org.