The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has finalized the purchase of approximately 30,000 acres of high-quality lesser prairie-chicken habitat in southwest Kansas. The permanent protection and long-term conservation of lesser prairie-chicken habitat is an important goal of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan. Funding for this acquisition comes from the voluntary contributions of industry partners that are enrolled in the range-wide plan.
Lesser prairie-chicken male during courtship display (photo: David Haukos)
“The acquisition of Sunview Ranch is a significant positive development to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken,” said Alexa Sandoval, Director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and Chairman of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council.
“This transaction involved a willing seller of land that contains prime lesser-prairie chicken habitat and furthers our goal of providing a stronghold of at least 25,000 acres in each of the ecoregions where the lesser prairie-chicken is still found. We commend all of our partners for their continued commitment to conservation of the lesser prairie-chicken,” Sandoval said.
The range-wide plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and the state wildlife agencies of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. It was developed to ensure conservation of the lesser prairie-chicken through voluntary cooperation by landowners and industry. The plan allows agriculture producers and industry to continue operations while reducing impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat.
The Sunview Ranch (formerly Tate Ranch) is in the sand sagebrush ecoregion, which covers portions of Kansas, Colorado and Oklahoma and once contained the highest density of lesser prairie-chickens in the country. The dominant vegetation on rangelands in the region is sand sagebrush which is a native shrub typically associated with deep sandy soils in dune landscapes. Livestock grazing is the primary land use on rangeland throughout the sand sagebrush region, and through grazing leases, will continue to be used as a management tool on the Sunview Ranch.
“This property is one of the largest remaining contiguous tracts of sand sagebrush prairie in the region,” said Jim Pitman, Conservation Delivery Director for WAFWA. “Conserving this property in perpetuity ensures that it will remain a working ranch and continue to provide habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken in the portion of its range where the population has declined the most. Prescribed grazing is the core management practice for lesser prairie-chickens, and we will be implementing it on the ranch to conserve and enhance habitat for the species.”