Landowners to receive benefits for habitat enhancements; contact FSA beginning Dec. 1
LAFAYETTE, Colo. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently approved a request that 30,000 acres of land be allocated for a new conservation practice — Kansas State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) — a continuous practice in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The additional SAFE acres will be targeted in areas within the lesser prairie chicken range in the southwest portion of the state. The lesser prairie chicken is a resident grouse species known for its showy breeding displays performed on mating grounds, called “leks.” While its Kansas range has expanded for several years, it has recently become known as a species of high conservation concern throughout the high plains.

"Through cooperative efforts like the SAFE initiative, farmers and ranchers can play key roles in protecting wildlife that may be threatened or endangered," said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. "These additional SAFE acres will provide new opportunities for state and regional agencies, non-profit organizations, farm groups, and other conservation partners to work with farmers and ranchers to restore wildlife habitats and conserve rare species, so they don’t have to be listed under the Endangered Species Act."

The Playa Lakes Joint Venture (PLJV) worked with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever, the Kansas Wildlife Federation, Audubon of Kansas, and others to develop the SAFE proposal. These target areas are places where new or re-enrolled CRP acres will provide the most benefit for the lesser prairie chicken by expanding large patches of native habitat.

The SAFE initiative is a type of conservation practice known as “spatial targeting.” Some broader scales of spatial targeting have been used in USDA programs. For example, in this year’s CRP general signup, Conservation Priority Areas (CPAs) for the lesser prairie chicken were defined by identifying target counties or target watersheds. Applicants located within the CPAs received additional points, making them more likely to be accepted into the program.

Comparatively, the spatial targeting used for the lesser prairie chicken SAFE was much more refined in both its spatial scale and targeting criteria. To define target areas, a Geographic Information System (GIS) was used to evaluate land against several criteria related to lesser prairie chicken habitat needs, including the following:

  • proximity to core lesser prairie chicken habitat patches;
  • size of nearest lesser prairie chicken habitat patch; and
  • percent of CRP expiring in areas adjacent to habitat patches.

Generally, the target areas are within 2 miles of a large habitat patch (1,235 to 74,130 acres) where a high percentage of CRP has been set to expire in 2010 and 2011.

Landowners who are interested in enrolling land in the Kansas lesser prairie chicken SAFE practice and think their land may be in one of the targeted areas should visit their local Farm Service Agency service center after Dec. 1 to get more details and find out if they are eligible.