Thursday, March 03, 2016

States fire head of crucial prairie chicken program

Even as a federal district judge yesterday rejected the Fish and Wildlife Service's request to reinstate federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken, state wildlife regulators fired the man in charge of the plan the judge had instead favored to recover the imperiled bird. Until yesterday, Cal Baca was the lesser prairie chicken program manager at the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), a coalition of regulators from 23 states and Canadian provinces that created a rangewide plan meant to prevent the need to protect the bird under the Endangered Species Act. Baca's main responsibility at WAFWA was implementing the rangewide plan that Junell concluded could recover the species without the need for federal protections. His termination on the day that the courts made it unlikely the prairie chicken will receive federal protections anytime soon suggested to some observers that the states are no longer interested in following their plan to recover the species. "It's not a good omen," said one so-called mitigation banker, who has closely followed the prairie chicken issue. He spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid negative attention to his company, which preserves habitat for protected species and sells conservation credits to developers that harm listed animals. The exact reason for Baca's dismissal remains unclear. In a brief phone interview, he told Greenwire, "I don't think I'm at liberty to discuss that right now." An email sent out to WAFWA staff around noon yesterday said only that "effective immediately, Cal Baca is no longer an employee of WAFWA and, therefore, no longer holds the position of the [lesser prairie chicken] Program Manager. ... While the LPC Program Manager position is vacant, Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA's Grassland Initiative Coordinator, will be the main point of contact regarding the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Rangewide Plan." The decision to fire Baca was made by the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council, a body that includes state wildlife regulators in the bird's five-state range and one at-large member. Alexa Sandoval, the director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and chairwoman of the council, declined to discuss the reasoning behind the decision but emphasized that it was unrelated to the district court ruling...more

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