by Jon Ungerer, Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Coordinator, Natural Resources Conservation Service
A new report highlights Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) conservation successes across the lesser prairie-chicken’s range in the Southern Great Plains. The LPCI report, Conservation Across the Range, showcases the strategies, partnerships, and range management practices that are helping restore prairie habitat in win-win conservation efforts that benefit agricultural producers and wildlife.
Led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the LPCI partnership works to enhance lesser prairie-chicken habitat, one ranch at a time. Cattle and lesser prairie-chickens both need healthy rangeland to thrive. Through voluntary conservation efforts, farmers and ranchers in the southern Great Plains are restoring habitat for this iconic bird while improving their agricultural operations.
According to the report, farmers and ranchers have made conservation improvements to 1 million acres since the NRCS launched the LPCI partnership in 2010, through such practices as sustainable grazing systems, removing encroaching woody plants, and prescribed fire.
About 95 percent of lesser prairie-chicken habitat falls on private lands, making these conservation efforts crucial to the bird’s rebound. The bird, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated as threatened in 2014, numbers about 29,000. The goal is to boost the bird’s population to an average of 67,000 over a ten-year period.
The report highlights the conservation efforts of a number of ranchers, including:
Ted Alexander, who has utilized prescribed burning and grazing to allow native grasses to flourish on his Kansas ranch.
Bill Barby, who is using a sustainable grazing system that promotes prairie health, providing drought-resilient forage for cattle and habitat for prairie chickens on his Kansas ranch.
Willard Heck, who is removing hundreds of acres of invading mesquite trees to restore habitat. Research shows that lesser prairie-chickens stop nesting in grasslands that have just one tree per 1.2 acres.
NRCS’ conservation efforts for the lesser prairie-chicken are part of the agency’s Working Lands for Wildlife partnership, which steers public and private conservation investments that improve struggling landscapes, like the prairie of the southern Great Plains, while strengthening agricultural operations.