Photo: Playas

Playas dot the landscape throughout the PLJV region. Photo courtesy of Brian Slobe.

Subscribe to Playa Post

Find Us on Facebook

Playa Post - April 2012

IN THIS ISSUE

Kansas Wildlife and Fisheries Chief Joe Kramer Receives 2012 Wetland Conservation Achievement Award

Joe Kramer DU AwardOn March 16, during the 77th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Atlanta, Joe Kramer, chief of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Wildlife and Fisheries Division, was presented with the Ducks Unlimited 2012 Wetland Conservation Achievement Award in the State Agency category.

"In his 34-year conservation career, Joe has made significant contributions to the future of waterfowl and wetlands in Kansas, the Central Flyway and beyond," said Ducks Unlimited Chief Conservation Officer Paul Schmidt, who presented the award. "He has been a strong partner to Ducks Unlimited and throughout the conservation community, and we are pleased to honor him with this award."

DU's Wetland Conservation Achievement Awards recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the restoration and conservation of North America's wetlands and other waterfowl habitat.

Kramer began his career with Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism in 1976 as a wildlife area technician. In just 11 years, he rose through the ranks to his current position, and has been responsible for putting together the majority of the current Wildlife and Fisheries Division staff, one of the most progressive state conservation staffs in the country. Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and Ducks Unlimited have worked together to deliver 18,000 acres of conserved wetlands across Kansas, and Kramer's partner-centric approach to conservation has made that possible.

"Joe has been a leader in fostering wetlands conservation partnerships for the good of the resource," said Scott Manley, Ducks Unlimited director of conservation programs, who nominated Kramer for the award.

One example of these strong partnerships is McPherson Valley Wetlands, which now spans 4,500 acres in central Kansas and provides a critical anchor point for waterfowl and other migratory birds traversing the continent between their historical breeding and wintering grounds. This acquisition and restoration project was built on partnerships, including one with Ducks Unlimited, and took nearly 20 years to fully accomplish.

"Joe personally encouraged each of 15 partners to focus on common goals and to stay engaged over the long haul, as he knew each brought important resources, expertise and funding to the table," Manley said.

Kramer's contributions to conservation reach far beyond Kansas as well. He has served on the Central Flyway Council and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan Committee and was a founding board member of the Playa Lakes Joint Venture (PLJV), serving as chairman from 1991 to 1993.

"By virtue of his 34 years of contributions to the wildlife conservation field and longtime support of joint ventures, local habitat partnerships and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, I can think of no more deserving person for this recognition," says Mike Carter, PLJV coordinator.

The Ducks Unlimited 2012 Wetland Conservation Achievement Awards were presented in six categories and recognized individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the restoration and conservation of North America's wetlands and waterfowl. View all 2012 Wetland Conservation Achievement Award winners.

ConocoPhillips Honored at Joint Venture 25th Anniversary Reception

ConocoPhillips awardOn March 21, federal and state agencies, conservation organizations and Members of Congress came together with partners from across North America to celebrate 25 years of Joint Venture partnerships and to recognize several key partners in bird and habitat conservation. At the Capitol Hill reception, ConocoPhillips was one of the "Conservation Champions" recognized for supporting collaborative conservation efforts over the past two and a half decades.

"While other corporations have engaged in Joint Venture Management Boards across North America, ConocoPhillips stands out among its peers through their tangible and meaningful contributions of resources," says PLJV Coordinator Mike Carter. "It has been a champion of migratory bird conservation by donating critical non-federal funding, serving on Management Boards and setting an exemplary standard to the rest of corporate America."

ConocoPhillips has been involved with Playa Lakes Joint Venture for most of the organization's existence. Over the past 20 years, it has donated over $2 million to the PLJV ConocoPhillips granting program. That funding has been leveraged more than three-fold by PLJV partners, providing a significant boost to local conservation efforts—resulting in over 20,000 acres being restored, enhanced or protected—as well as being an important partner in innovative education and research projects.

In addition, ConocoPhillips has served on the Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV) Management Board for many years, contributing both annual funding support and expertise in working with corporate partners on bird habitat conservation. ConocoPhillips plays a key role in IWJV bird habitat conservation by supporting the IWJV Capacity Grants Program and its work in the communication arena. Past donations have provided critical non-federal spending flexibility that helped establish and maintain the diverse partnership that is the hallmark of this Joint Venture.

"In all these pursuits, ConocoPhillips has been a committed, long-term partner," adds Carter. "Their steadfast support has been instrumental in the protection and restoration of bird and wildlife habitat throughout the PLJV region."

PLJV Landcover Accuracy Assessment Will Improve Conservation Efforts

PLJV LandcoverThe Playa Lakes Joint Venture (PLJV) recently completed an accuracy assessment of its landcover layer. The PLJV landcover, which spans over 190 million acres of the shortgrass and mixed-grass bird conservation regions, was developed by integrating the most current and detailed habitat data sets available.

"Most data sets are restricted to state or even county boundaries, making regional analysis of habitat challenging," says Megan McLachlan. "Our goal in developing this layer was to combine the best available data into a regionally consistent landcover that could be used to assess bird habitat in the PLJV region. But even the best data sets have error and that error must be taken into account when making conservation decisions."

In 2009, PLJV conducted a field-based survey of landcover in the region. Field technicians surveyed over 12,000 points distributed throughout the shortgrass and mixed-grass bird conservation regions and collected data on both landcover class (i.e. agriculture, grassland, shrubland, wetlands) and condition (i.e. farmed, native, exotic, grass, wetland, trees). These data were used to estimate the accuracy of the PLJV landcover, which will provide guidance on how the landcover can best be used for spatial analysis and biological planning.

The data collected in this field survey will also be used to accomplish two other long-standing goals of the joint venture, to monitor habitat trends and to assess habitat conditions in the PLJV region. The next step is to consolidate the habitat condition data into a geospatial database that can be used to link bird species to habitat conditions in the map. For example, these data will be incorporated into the PLJV's Hierarchical All Bird System database, which is used to estimate landscape carrying capacity for priority bird species. In addition, the field survey will be repeated in 2014 to assess landcover trends.

"Spatially explicit habitat data is crucial to wildlife conservation," says PLJV Coordinator Mike Carter. "It allows us to locate habitats, predict species distribution, model species habitat relationships, and monitor changes in habitat. This information will be invaluable for understanding the PLJV landscape and will greatly improve our ability to deliver effective conservation planning and management."

For more information about the landcover or the accuracy assessment, contact PLJV at 303-926-0777.

Two USDA Initiatives May Help Lesser Prairie-Chicken and Landowners

Two new USDA initiatives aimed at increasing the number of acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) have significance for the western Great Plains. With concerns over the Lesser Prairie-Chicken possibly being added to the endangered species list and worries over the current drought cycle, these programs may bring some relief to landowners in a part of the country once known as the "Dust Bowl."

Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitat in CroplandThe first initiative, which will be available for landowners and producers this summer, is a Continuous CRP practice for soils having an erosion index of 20 or greater. These soils are extremely fragile—often very sandy—and require special care to keep them from being eroded by either wind or water. The continuous practice allows landowners who meet the eligibility criteria to enroll directly into the program at any time.

"This could have a big impact on Lesser Prairie-Chickens," says PLJV Conservation Policy Director Barth Crouch, "considering that, in Kansas alone, there are over 780,000 acres of land with those types of soils in their currently occupied range."

The second initiative will add one million acres of Continuous CRP practices aimed at preserving wetlands and grasslands, including:

  • 100,000 acres of pollinator habitat, a seeding of many different native flowering plants;
  • 200,000 acres of wetlands with grass buffers;
  • 400,000 acres of State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement practices, plantings targeted to aide a specific wildlife species or suite of animals;
  • 150,000 acres of duck nesting habitat, aimed at the Prairie Pothole Region of the Dakotas, Montana, and Minnesota; and
  • 150,000 acres of upland habitat buffers, native grass and forb plantings around the edges of crop fields designed to help upland game birds such as Ringneck Pheasants and Bobwhite quail.

In addition, the signing incentive Payment paid on enrolling in most Continuous CRP practices is increasing from $100 to $150 per acre. To learn more about these initiatives, producers and landowners should contact their local USDA Farm Service Agency office.

NRCS Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Gets Rolling with Training Workshops

Training WorkshopThrough the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, financial and technical assistance is available to implement conservation practices such as prescribed grazing, upland wildlife habitat improvement, brush management, prescribed burning and the restoration of native habitat through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), and other programs. To increase outreach and technical assistance to landowners, NRCS recently collaborated with partners to hire and train 11 new range conservationists and wildlife biologists to help target and deliver USDA conservation programs.

Training on how to conduct a survey"Sustainable agriculture is compatible with healthy wildlife populations," says Jon Ungerer, NRCS Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Coordinator, "and in this case we are working to expand Lesser Prairie-Chicken habitat while supporting long-term agricultural operations. The success of this initiative will hinge on us being able to engage landowners in areas that will most benefit Lesser Prairie-Chicken populations."

In March, workshops were held in Kansas, Texas and New Mexico to provide training for close to 200 NRCS staff and partners, including the new private lands biologists. PLJV staff participated in all three workshops, providing information on the Southern Great Plains Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool and how it is being used to identify the highest priority landscapes where private lands biologists will focus their efforts.

Under an agreement with NRCS, PLJV will provide general GIS support for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative as well as develop decision support tools to further improve targeting programs to high priority areas.