So what do you get when you put an environmentalist, an oil and gas official, a farmer and a consultant for energy and agriculture in the same room?

Several things come to mind, including the possibility of fisticuffs, EMTs and bail bondsmen.

The reality, however, may be much less entertaining but significantly more productive.

David Wolfe, with the Environmental Defense Fund, says putting stakeholders together to discuss issues and look for sometimes elusive common ground sometimes pays off with solutions that produce, “positive, sustainable outcomes” that benefit wildlife, farmers and ranchers and the energy industry.

Wolfe took part in a panel discussion at the Southwest Ag Issues Summit in Oklahoma City. Joining him on the panel were Steve Manning, a consultant with Natural Resources Solutions; Jim Sipes, a Kansas farmer and representative of the Kansas Farm Bureau; and Linda McDonald, Sand Ridge Energy. Shawn Wade, Plains Cotton Growers Inc., moderated the panel, which concentrated on a habitat exchange program proposed to protect habitat for the Lesser Prairie Chicken. Across the five states—Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas— included in the Lesser Prairie Chicken range, 20 million acres are considered habitat.

 

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The exchange program, in a nutshell, would allow farmers, ranchers and other landowners with land in the prairie chicken’s native habitat, to submit bids to set aside acreage to preserve habitat as mitigation for energy companies who disturb habitat with drilling. Energy companies would pay farmers and ranchers an annual fee per acre to set aside habitat.

“It’s a way to take a liability and turn it into an opportunity,” Manning said.

“It’s a market-based solution,” Wolfe added. Conservation programs are “most effective when they include incentive-based solutions. It’s better for wildlife, private landowners and energy.”

Energy companies have to find means to mitigate environmental impacts of drilling operations. This proposal provides “tools for mitigation. It has weaknesses. It doesn’t provide an opportunity for mitigation offsets.”

Wolfe also noted that to be successful a large number of landowners would have to cooperate to provide necessary habitat for the Lesser Prairie Chicken. “The habitat exchange program is voluntary for farmers and ranchers who would provide credits for energy companies. It will have to be financially competitive to be successful.”

“If we have a five-acre (drill site), we have to get mitigation before we can drill,” said McDonald. With oil and gas drilling, energy companies are affecting private land, not federal acreage, she said. “We work with private land owners to develop habitat for the prairie chicken, and we can’t expect them to do that for free.”