Category Archives: News

USDA Releases Five-Year Strategy to Boost Forest Health and Help Golden-winged Warbler

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has just released a new five-year conservation strategy to support private landowners managing for healthier forests in the Appalachian Mountains, part of an ongoing effort to help the golden-winged warbler rebound, and avoid the need for regulation of the species. This strategy serves as a game plan for how USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and its conservation partners can best meet their goal of helping landowners adopt bird-friendly practices on more than 15,000 acres of young forests and shrublands over the next five years.

The golden-winged warbler has suffered one of the steepest population declines of any songbird species in the last 45 years, largely attributed to the decline of young forests that the migratory bird needs for nesting.

In 2012, NRCS selected seven priority species for Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW), a science-based partnership for wildlife conservation.  Those species include lesser prairie-chicken, greater sage-grouse, gopher tortoise, New England cottontail, southern willow flycatcher, bog turtle, and golden-winged warbler. More recently, NRCS added the monarch butterfly to its list of priority species.

With a black-and white facial pattern and touches of yellow on its wings and head, the golden-winged warbler breeds in the deciduous forests of the Great Lakes and Appalachians and then spends its winters in Latin America.

Appalachian forests have widely suffered from “high grade” or “diameter limit” harvests that remove only the most valuable trees. NRCS forest conservation practices renew the economic and wildlife values of deciduous forests. With about 70 percent of the region under private ownership, management decisions of landowners are important to the golden-winged warbler and many game species including turkey, deer and grouse.

“Many of our nation’s forests have fallen into poor health, and we have a tremendous opportunity in Appalachia to make a difference both for landowners and for wildlife,” NRCS Acting Chief Leonard Jordan said. “Our effort is to diversify the age classes of trees in forests, creating patches of forests of different ages, and for the golden-winged warbler, we’re focusing on those younger forests within landscapes dominated by mature forests.”

Research shows the conservation practices are benefiting the golden-winged warbler. The largest assessment of its kind is now underway, and the first three years of data show high nesting success in forests managed using NRCS practices.

This strategy provides guidance on how and where the agency will work with landowners to address habitat loss. It relies on new priority areas for conservation, which were developed last fall with support from American Bird Conservancy and assessment data from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University and other partners. These priority areas use population, forest cover and land use data to direct conservation actions to key areas across the seven-state range.

For WLFW, NRCS targets conservation in Appalachia, which lost 43 percent of its young forest habitat since the 1960s. From 2012 to 2016, landowners have restored more than 13,000 acres of habitat through WLFW partnerships.

Through Farm Bill conservation programs, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to help landowners voluntarily plan and implement forestry practices that restore and enhance young forest habitat.

Historically, natural disturbances like wildfires created patches of young forests. Nowa­days, people largely control these natural processes to protect life and property. Through conservation practices, landowners are able to mimic those natural disturbances.

Practices include brush management, creation of conservation cover, early successional habitat development and management, herbaceous weed control and prescribed burning.

Research shows the conservation practices are benefiting the golden-winged warbler. The largest assessment of its kind is now underway, and the first three years of data show high nesting success in forests managed using NRCS practices.

WLFW and other partnership efforts to promote habitat restoration on private and public lands are working. In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined protections under the Endangered Species Act were not needed for the New England cottontail and greater sage-grouse, both WLFW target species, largely because of collaborative efforts to conserve habitat on public and private lands. Other successes include the Oregon chub, Arctic grayling, greater sage-grouse, Bi-State sage-grouse and Louisiana black bear.

To learn more about assistance opportunities, landowners should contact their local USDA service center or visit the Conservation Choices for Wildlife – Golden-winged Warbler webpage for more information on available practices.

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, led by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life.

 New Video Shows how LPC Range-wide Plan Works For Wildlife and Landowners

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has released a new video demonstrating how the mitigation program in the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan is successfully conserving habitat for this iconic grassland bird. The video documents work being done on a West Texas ranch that is being funded by industry participation in the plan.

The video was produced through a partnership between WAFWA, the Natural Resources Conservation Service-led Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, and Pheasants Forever.

Watch the video.

The Range-wide Conservation Plan allows industry to continue operations while reducing and mitigating impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat. Industry contributions support conservation actions implemented by participating private landowners. Pioneer Natural Resources is one of more than 160 companies that are enrolled in the plan.

“Pioneer jumped into this program because it gives us the ability to control our own fate,” said Pioneer VP Legal and Chief Compliance Office Ron Schindler, who appears in the video. “We were able to voluntarily jump in and do some things that would allow us to have some predictability with our future. WAFWA’s expertise helps us select places for production that are less impactful to the chicken first, and on places where we just can’t avoid them, WAFWA also helps us with designs and offsets so that if we impact the chicken in a particular place they get double the habitat elsewhere.”

Randy Beasley’s ranch in Yoakum County in West Texas is a textbook example of how the plan is improving lesser prairie-chicken habitat. Beasley’s ranch has been in his family since 1941. He recalls a time before mesquite invaded the landscape, when lesser prairie-chickens abounded. WAFWA entered into a 10-year contract with Beasley to improve habitat on 15,457 acres of his ranch.

Beasley is implementing a conservation plan developed by WAFWA to increase native grass production and reduce the proliferation of mesquite and shinnery oak. Mesquite and shinnery oak are native plants but their abundance has increased dramatically since historic times due to fire suppression and intensive grazing. Dense stands of these woody plants suppress native grasses, which provide important habitat for the bird as well as forage for livestock.

Recent research shows that lesser prairie-chickens strongly avoid mesquite plants, likely due to their vertical structure. Ideal habitat for prairie-chickens in this region consists of a diverse community of native grasses, forbs, and low shrubs like shinnery oak. Since the contract was initiated in March 2015, more than 2,800 acres of mesquite have been mechanically removed with another 2,400 acres slated for removal. In addition, more than 7,500 acres of shinnery oak has been chemically suppressed.

WAFWA biologists are now working with Beasley to reintroduce fire to portions of the ranch so that the benefits of these restoration practices will be maintained into the future. WAFWA biologists have documented lesser prairie-chickens on the ranch and expect the birds to soon reoccupy areas where recent restoration work has occurred.

“Since we’ve started this wildlife program, we’re starting to see grass grow and we’re seeing chickens again like we did in the past,” Beasley said in the video. “It’s one of those things that is good for us financially. It has been good for the land, for the cattle, and it has been a dream come true.”

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and the five state wildlife agencies where the birds are found: Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. The plan was developed to ensure long-term viability of the lesser prairie-chicken through voluntary cooperation by landowners and industry. To date, industry partners have committed over $63 million in enrollment and mitigation fees to pay for conservation actions, and landowners across the range have agreed to conserve over 145,000 acres of habitat through 10-year and permanent conservation agreements.

“It is encouraging to see the progress we’ve made in just a few short years,” said J.D. Strong, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Chairman of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council. “This new video underscores how private landowners and industry support are making a difference for the long-term survival of the lesser prairie-chicken. Industry and landowner support for conservation efforts are critically important right now as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is moving through the process to determine if the bird warrants being listed again under the Endangered Species Act. We applaud the participation of landowners and industry who care about the future of this species.”


Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan can be found HERE

Aerial Surveys Confirm Lesser Prairie-Chicken Population Holding Steady

Results are in for the 2017 lesser prairie-chicken aerial survey, and they’ve brought welcome news. The survey indicates an estimated breeding population of 33,269 birds this year, up from 24,648 birds counted last year. Though scientists are encouraged by the numbers, they know that year-to-year fluctuations are the norm with upland birds like the lesser prairie-chicken.

Male lesser prairie-chicken flying from a Kansas lek. Photo David Haukos.

“The survey results indicate a 34% increase in the number of birds, but we don’t read too much into short-term population fluctuations,” explained Roger Wolfe, Lesser Prairie-chicken Program Manager for the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), the organization that oversees the survey.

“The monitoring technique used for this survey is designed to track trends, which more accurately reflect the amount of available habitat and population stability,” said Wolfe. “The bottom line is that the population trend over the last five years indicates a stable population, which is good news for all involved in lesser prairie-chicken conservation efforts.”

Manuel DeLeon, acting coordinator of the Natural Resources Conservation Service-led Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI), welcomed the news, noting the essential nature of partnership and collaboration in the process of recovering lesser prairie-chicken populations.

“Moving forward depends on all the collective efforts undertaken to maintain and improve lesser prairie-chicken habitat,” said DeLeon. “LPCI is one cog in the wheel working to help ranchers improve their operations while also improving lesser prairie-chicken habitat.”

LPCI partners with WAFWA to carry out habitat conservation to meet the population recovery goals of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Plan, which was developed to ensure long-term viability of the lesser prairie-chicken through voluntary cooperation by landowners and industry.

Lesser prairie-chickens inhabit four ecoregions in the southern Great Plains, including portions of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Their populations regularly fluctuate up and down from year to year due to changes in habitat conditions, mainly influenced by weather patterns. The surveys this year indicated apparent population increases in three of the four ecoregions, with an apparent decrease estimated in the fourth ecoregion.

Lesser prairie-chicken nest with hatched eggs. Photo Jeremy Roberts, Conservation Media.

The short-grass prairie ecoregion of northwest Kansas saw the biggest apparent annual increase in birds, followed by the mixed-grass prairie ecoregion of the northeast Panhandle of Texas, northwest Oklahoma and south-central Kansas. The sand sagebrush ecoregion of southeast Colorado and southwest Kansas also registered an apparent annual increase in the number of breeding birds. An apparent annual population decline was noted in the shinnery oak ecoregion of eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle.

LPCI science advisor Christian Hagen noted that the trends are encouraging, especially on the heels of the extreme drought of 2012-13 and the mega-wildfires that have blazed across hundreds of thousands of acres of prairie-chicken habitat during the past two years.

“While the fire will help the prairies and lesser prairie-chickens in the long run by removing and reducing eastern redcedar, the short term post-fire effects are not well understood,” said Hagen. “To show stable populations in the wake of drought and fire, I believe, speaks volumes about the continued conservation efforts occurring across throughout their distribution range.”

Wolfe noted that, like all wildlife, the health of lesser prairie-chickens is greatly affected by the weather. “The aerial surveys this year were taken before the late spring snowstorm blasted through much of the bird’s range, just prior to the peak of nest incubation,” said Wolfe. “We’ll know more about the impact of that weather event after aerial surveys are completed next year.”

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, led by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life.

Research Sheds Light on Nocturnal Habits of Lesser Prairie-Chickens

What do lesser prairie-chickens do at night? Until recently, scientists had very little data on the bird’s after-hours behavior and habitat preferences. Researchers from Oklahoma State University are filling in some of the blanks, with results that can help inform conservation practices. Graduate student Ashley Tanner, a Ph.D. candidate at OSU, summarized the research teams findings.

Female lesser prairie-chicken with satellite transmitter. Photo Dwayne Elmore, OSU

“Despite the fact that lesser prairie-chickens spend nearly half their time budget every day, throughout the year, at nocturnal roosting sites, we know relatively little about this behavior and associated habitat,” Tanner wrote in her research summary.

At night, Tanner noted,  lesser prairie-chickens are under significantly different pressures than during the day. For example, some potential predators are more active at night, such as coyotes, bobcats, great-horned owls, and American badgers. These additional pressures may alter habitat selection from what is typically used during the day.

Tanner’s research team analyzed 31,324 nocturnal roost locations from 103  individual lesser prairie-chickens (71 males and 32 females) in Beaver County, Oklahoma. They found that mortality was no more likely at night than during the day.

Female lesser prairie-chicken with satellite transmitter (photo Dwayne Elmore, OSU)Moreover, the team found that once a lesser prairie-chicken selected a roosting site, movement from that site was rare. They noted that lesser prairie-chickens moved at least 50m only about 6% of the nights, and moved more than 50m less than 3% of nights. Given the low rates of nocturnal movement, any disturbance that causes a chicken to move nocturnally would be especially disruptive to these birds.

Additionally, the team found that course-scale habitat use during the night was not significantly different than habitat used during the day. Lesser prairie-chickens use areas with higher amounts of plant biomass for roosting.

Tanner notes that the research results fill a substantial void in knowledge about lesser prairie-chicken ecology, helping managers make appropriate conservation management decisions that account for the bird’s needs throughout the day.

Texas Field Trip Showcases Lesser Prairie-Chicken Conservation

Thanks to LPCI partner organization, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), for this story.

A Texas Panhandle meeting and field trip organized this spring for regional field staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) highlighted efforts on public and private land to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken.

FWS officials met with WAFWA staff and representatives of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council in Lubbock on April 17. The following day, the group toured the Yoakum Dunes Wildlife Management Area with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff to observe on-the-ground conservation efforts on state land, and also toured a nearby private ranch that is under a term conservation agreement with WAFWA.

The group was treated to the inspiring sight of booming lesser prairie-chickens on two leks, saw plenty of other wildlife and they were all encouraged by what they saw.

“One word sums up the day: awesome!” said Benjamin Tuggle, regional director for the USFWS Southwest Region.  “I am sure that through our continued collaboration and communications we will strengthen our partnership and foster additional opportunities for conservation in the Great Plains.”

WAFWA Story Map

The landscape-scale conservation work currently underway for lesser prairie-chickens in five western states is massive in scale and complex in scope. To help people understand what it’s all about, WAFWA has recently launched new “story maps” to explain different elements of the plan and how it all comes together. The interactive site is easy to navigate and provides detail in easy to understand terms.

View WAFWA’s lesser prairie-chicken story map.

Wildlife Journal Spotlights Lesser Prairie-Chicken Conservation

Lesser prairie-chickens take top billing in the latest issue of The Wildlife Professional, trade journal of The Wildlife Society, an international scientific and educational association dedicated to excellence in wildlife stewardship. The cover story explores the current state of lesser prairie-chickens over their five-state range.

In David Frey’s article, Boom or Bust?, researchers from across the southern Great Plains weighed in on the bird’s recovery. Christian Hagen, science advisor for the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative (LPCI), expressed cautious optimism about populations trends. “On the whole, things are actually looking quite good,” Hagen said. “It’s certainly not the growth rate we’d like to see, but all the trends we see are headed in the right direction.”

The researchers agree that it all comes down to habitat. “The biggest thing for these birds is intact pieces of prairie, and keeping ranchers ranching to retain prairie as prairie,” Hagen said.

LPCI partner organizations across the southern Great Plains have been working toward that goal. New Mexico wildlife biologist Tish McDaniel of the Center of Excellence described her organization’s strategy. “We put a lot of effort into habitat restoration, working with ranchers, mitigating with oil and gas. All the work that we do to try to make things as good as they can be, so when the bird numbers do increase, we will still have habitat for them.”

Lesser prairie-chickens inhabit four distinct ecoregions within the southern Great Plains—each with its own recovery challenges. Though their entire range is drought-prone, the western portion of the range receives the least annual rainfall.

Range conservationist and wildlife biologist Tish McDaniel (right) serves as project manager for the Center of Excellence, and LPCI partner that works with ranchers and the energy industry to protect lesser prairie-chicken habitat.

Colorado’s prairie-chicken population is the smallest of the five states, with less than 100 birds in the southwest corner of the state.  “In the past decade we’ve seen a pretty dramatic decline,” said Cody Strong, an LPCI wildlife biologist in Colorado. “The chicken has not done as well here [as in other parts of the range], but we’re getting its habitat in a better place now.”

Prairie chicken numbers are strongest in Kansas. Curiously, their numbers have increased significantly in northwest Kansas as the birds have actually spread into areas previously unoccupied by lesser prairie-chickens. Kansas State University researcher Dave Haukos noted that this increase appears connected with the availability of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands in this region.

Haukos struck an optimistic note about the lesser prairie-chicken’s future. “They’re a boom-and-bust species,” he said. “They’re very resilient. So long as they do have available habitat in sufficient quantity and quality, they can survive.”

Indeed, prairie-chicken numbers have rebounded across the chicken’s five-state range since the intensive drought of 2012-13, with last year’s population estimate just over 25,000 birds.

LPCI Science Advisor Christian Hagen (right) talks with Kansas rancher Ed Koger during a prescribed burn at the Hashknife Ranch.

Researchers expressed concern that climate change will push the limits of that resilience. “This is the southern extreme of the population,” McDaniel said, “And with the temperature increasing, this will be the part of the population that will be affected the most.”

For a habitat-conservation initiative like the Natural Resources Conservation Service-led LPCI, the take-away from Frey’s article is that we’re on the right track. Healthy, resilient habitat is the key to the lesser prairie-chicken’s survival. With 95% of the bird’s habitat in private ownership, helping ranchers adopt habitat conservation practices that work well for both bird and herd is an essential strategy for lesser prairie-chicken recovery.

WAFWA Reports on 2016 Conservation Efforts, Including Permanent Land Protection

On March 31, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service its third annual report detailing conservation efforts in 2016 on behalf of the lesser prairie-chicken. Among other highlights, WAFWA reported on the purchase of an ecologically significant piece of property in Kansas, which permanently protects nearly 30,000 acres of high-quality lesser prairie-chicken habitat.

WAFWA oversees the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan–a collaborative effort of the state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado. It was developed to provide a blueprint for lesser prairie-chicken conservation through voluntary cooperation of landowners, land management agencies, and industry participants.

Brad Odle, right, is one of several WAFWA regional biologists who works with landowners to voluntarily manage rangelands for lesser prairie-chickens.

“As we close out our third year of implementation, we’re really hitting our stride,” said Alexa Sandoval, Director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and Chairman of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council. “We are encouraged that despite an oil and gas industry downturn, support for this collaborative conservation approach remains strong. We commend all of our partners for their participation in the range-wide plan.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endorsed the plan in 2013, and as part of the conservation effort, the states agreed to report annually on the overall progress of the plan. Findings for 2016 include:

Land conservation efforts on private land increasing
By the end of 2016, WAFWA was conserving 16 sites totaling 133,703 acres either through fee title ownership or long-term contractual agreements. Three of those sites, totaling 33,053 acres, are permanently conserved through perpetual conservation easements or fee title ownership.

Most significantly, a 29,718-acre land acquisition by WAFWA was finalized in June 2016, permanently protecting high-quality habitat in the sand sagebrush ecoregion. Five lesser prairie-chicken lek sites have been documented on the property and within 3 miles of its perimeter within the last 5 years. WAFWA will continue to manage the property as a working cattle ranch and the grazing rights are currently leased to a private producer.

The acquired property meets all the criteria to be considered a “stronghold”, providing long-term protection to at least 25,000 acres of high-quality habitat for lesser prairie-chickens. Currently only one stronghold site exists throughout the lesser prairie-chicken’s five-state range in the southern Great Plains. A second, small acquisition  permanently protects 1,554 acres of shinnery oak habitat.

In addition, 1,781 acres of privately owned native rangeland is now permanently protected in the mixed grass ecoregion. WAFWA purchased a perpetual easement on the property that protects the conservation values of the site. The easement is held by Pheasants Forever.

WAFWA biologist Brad Odle conducts vegetation monitoring in lesser prairie-chicken habitat.

The other 13 sites were 10-year contracts with private landowners, covering 100,650 acres across the range, three of which were executed during 2016.

Lesser prairie-chicken population stable
The annual lesser prairie-chicken aerial survey used to monitor populations was conducted from March through May 2016. The latest survey showed population trends have been stable after five years of data collection. An estimated breeding population of 25,261 birds was documented in 2016, which scientists say is not statistically different from the estimate of 29,162 birds in 2015 given the variability associated with the survey methodology. Aerial surveys for 2017 are underway and will run through mid-May. Results are anticipated in early July.

Cooperative efforts enhancing conservation
A renewed cooperative effort between Natural Resources Conservation Service (through the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative), Pheasants Forever, and WAFWA will enhance program promotion, monitoring activities, and conservation planning and delivery. There was also continued effort to work with state wildlife agencies to identify and pursue research and management needs. Those activities included lesser prairie-chicken translocation efforts that moved birds from the shortgrass to sand sagebrush ecoregion

Technology enhances conservation decision-making
During 2016, significant progress was made in database development and accessibility. Highlights include integrating impact and conservation sites into a single database to ensure all habitat impacts are offset by an appropriate conservation site. In addition, a custom website was developed that give participating companies a way to submit and approve new projects as well as view past submissions. WAFWA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can also use the web interface to obtain site-specific summary statistics, habitat mitigation credit balances, and raw data.

Industry projects generate mitigation credit, offset by conservation
In 2016, 114 industry-related projects were processed and mitigated.  WAFWA has focused on committing enrollment and mitigation fees for conservation contracts to benefit the bird and to ensure companies have available mitigation credit to develop as energy prices rebound. In July 2016, WAFWA developed a process to address non-payment of enrollment fees that provides several options to help companies stay enrolled in the program.

Full details are in the annual report available Here

Contact: Roger Wolfe, 785-256-3737

WAFWA to begin aerial surveys of lesser prairie-chicken habitat

Aerial surveys of lesser prairie-chickens will begin March 17 and run through mid-May in five states containing habitat the bird needs to thrive. The surveys are conducted annually by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) to assess population trends and how the bird is responding to management strategies identified in the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan. 

WAFWA’s annual aerial survey counts lesser prairie-chickens on leks (mating display sites) across the 5-state range.

The range-wide plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and the state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. It was developed to ensure conservation of the lesser prairie-chicken by providing a mechanism for voluntary participation of landowners and industry. Funding for WAFWA’s conservation efforts comes largely from voluntary mitigation payments by industry partners that are enrolled in the plan. The range-wide plan allows agriculture producers and industry to continue operations while reducing impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat.

Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA’s grassland coordinator, explains the intent of the aerial survey. “Working with the wildlife agencies of each of these five states, we’ve established a consistent methodology to conduct these aerial surveys. This allows us to get the most accurate information possible so we can see how various management strategies for the bird are working on the ground.”

The surveys will be conducted by helicopter in locations chosen randomly within lesser prairie-chicken range. In previous years, some of the fly paths prompted calls, which is why WAFWA is getting the word out about the start of aerial survey work.

Results from this year’s surveys will be available on July 1. In the five years since WAFWA initiated the surveys in 2012, estimated lesser prairie-chicken numbers have fluctuated between 20,300 and 38,700. Last year’s range-wide population was estimated at 25,700.

The population is still low compared to historical numbers, and the lesser prairie-chicken and its habitat still face many threats. WAFWA, a partner in the Natural Resources Conservation Service-led Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI), is committed to continued successful implementation of the range-wide plan and the long-term recovery of this iconic grassland bird.

For more information about the lesser prairie-chicken and the conservation work being done to support it, see the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Plan.

Since 1922, WAFWA has advanced conservation in western North America. Representing 23 western states and Canadian provinces, WAFWA’s reach encompasses more than forty percent of North America, including two-thirds of the United States.

WAFWA works with LPCI to enhance the field staff team that works one-on-one with landowners to recommend and provide assistance in carrying out conservation practices to benefit both lesser prairie-chickens and agricultural producers.


10 Things You Can Do for Lesser Prairie-Chickens

What can you do to help lesser prairie-chickens? Whether or not you own prairie habitat, there’s  a whole lot you can do to act on behalf of prairie wildlife.

1. Take Part in the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative

Oklahoma rancher Martin Moore reviews his grazing plan with NRCS District Conservationist Paul Clark.

If you’re a landowner in the lesser prairie-chicken’s habitat range, you may be eligible to receive technical and financial assistance from the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) to take part in conservation planning and range management that benefit lesser prairie-chickens AND the bottom line of your agricultural operation.

Find out how to enroll.

2. Support Landowners Practicing Careful Stewardship 

Healthy grasslands don’t just happen–they’re the result of careful stewardship. Ninety-five percent of the grasslands lesser prairie-chickens inhabit is privately owned. When you pay access fees to hunt, fish, or bird-watch on healthy grasslands, you’re supporting excellent stewardship and offering incentive for landowners to maintain quality habitat on their land.

3. Support LPCI’s Partners

Dogs await the start of the Bird Dog Parade at the annual Pheasant Fest, hosted by Pheasants Forever, an LPCI partner organization. (Photo: Pioneer Press, Dave Orrick)

Visit our Partners page and check out the many partner organizations who work with LPCI to achieve lesser prairie-chicken conservation through sustainable agriculture.

You’ll find links to their websites, where you can find out more about them and how to support their efforts.

4. Purchase a Hunting License

The purchase of licenses by hunters, trappers and anglers, as well as the taxes derived from the sale of sporting equipment and fuels for boating, supports fish and wildlife habitat conservation and research.

5. Buy Grass-fed Beef

You can act on behalf of prairie grasslands and the wildlife that depend on them through your supermarket choices.  When you buy grass-fed beef, you support keeping our grasslands as grasslands.

6. Discover the Prairie

There are so many ways to learn more about the prairie.  Visit our Prairie Community pages to find out more about lesser prairie-chickens and the complex community of plants and animals they live with. Our News and Resources page offers many links to readings, videos, and podcasts on LPCI, sustainable range management, prairie ecology, and much more. Sign up for LPCI’s e-newsletter to stay posted on what we’re up to.

Viewing blinds on the Selman Ranch in Oklahoma, one of the field sites for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Festival in Woodward, OK.

Best of all, spend time in native grasslands across the Great Plains, at sites like the Konza Prairie Biological Station, where managers aim to sustain the complex prairie ecosystem through management that mimics historic disturbance patterns. Attend prairie festivals, like Woodward Oklahoma’s Lesser Prairie-Chicken Festival. If you haven’t yet sat in a blind in the early morning hours, listening to prairie-chickens boom and foot-stomp and cluck and spar in the first light of a spring day, it’s high time!


7. Volunteer Time and Sweat 

Even if you don’t own prairie grasslands, you can help out with their stewardship. Volunteer to help a ranching neighbor carry out conservation practices. Contact your local prescribed burn association and volunteer to help out with prescribed burns. Some of our partner organizations hold volunteer days for clearing invasive species, installing wildlife water tanks, and more, so be sure to check out their websites for more information. Let your state representatives know that you support grassland conservation.

8. Celebrate all things prairie

Lesser prairie-chicken (photo Jeremy Roberts, Conservation Media)

If you are fortunate enough to live on the Great Plains, hold an event in your community to celebrate the prairie: the remarkable community of life there, the bounty it brings to our lives, and the resilience and fragility of the prairie ecosystem, the ranching heritage it supports. Involve your local school in the celebration -– children are the next generation of land stewards.

9. Spread the Word

Know someone with land in the lesser prairie-chicken’s range? Tell them about LPCI’s voluntary conservation programs and the technical and financial assistance LPCI provides.

Like LPCI on Facebook. By going to the LPCI Facebook page and clicking LIKE at the top, you’ll be able to follow LPCI news and learn more about the world of the lesser prairie-chicken. If you see a story that moves you, share it with your friends.

10. Share Your Story

Have you had a memorable encounter with lesser prairie-chickens or the prairie in general? Helped conserve prairie habitat for lesser prairie-chickens and other wildlife? Seen first-hand how conservation practices benefit both people and wildlife? We’d love to hear your story!

Lessons from the Heath Hen

Though the effort to save the heath hen was unsuccessful, it laid the groundwork for the way we undertake conservation of other species.

Eighty-five years ago today, the last living heath hen was seen for the last time. Booming Ben, as the lone grouse came to be known, had been the last of his kind since 1929. He faithfully returned each spring to display alone at his traditional lekking ground, making his last appearance on March 11, 1932.

Heath hens, John James Audubon

A sub-species of the greater prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus cupido), the heath hen (Tympanuchus cupido cupido) was a close cousin of the lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus). The likeness between the two is apparent when comparing historic footage of displaying male heath hens,  with contemporary footage of male lesser-prairie chickens.

Heath hens once ranged across scrubby coastal heath barrens from Maine to Virginia. Intensive hunting, coastal settlement, and fire suppression caused the population to plummet. By 1870, heath hens had vanished from the mainland US and only remained on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts.

As heath hen populations further dwindled, Martha’s Vineyard officials banned hunting of heath hens in 1906. Two years later, they created a 600-acre preserve for the birds. Far too little, far too late. The tiny remaining population was highly vulnerable to disruption. Add to that a lack of understanding of prairie grouse ecology—most notably of fire’s role in maintaining viable habitat—and the heath hen’s demise was sealed.

From the failed attempt to save heath hens from extinction, we learned the importance of early intervention—not waiting until a species hangs on the brink of extinction to begin efforts to boost its numbers. We also learned the importance of scientific research in understanding the ecological forces driving population dynamics. And we learned that landscape-level habitat problems need landscape-level solutions.

Fast-forward to 2010, when the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative—a landscape-level effort to maintain healthy habitat across the lesser prairie-chicken’s current five-state range as a means to increase the population of this at-risk species.

Scientific research helps identify core lesser prairie-chicken habitat and connective habitat corridors so that conservation efforts can focus where they’ll have the greatest impact. Research continues to help hone conservation efforts, increasing our understanding of population dynamics and fine-tuning our strategies for improving habitat health (see LPCI’s Science to Solutions series).

Though the effort to save the heath hen was unsuccessful, it laid the groundwork for the way we undertake conservation of other species. Through LPCI and other similar landscape conservation initiatives, private landowners can voluntarily partake in a collaborative effort to conserve not only an iconic species but an iconic way of life. LPCI builds upon the fact that when grasslands are healthy and productive, both wildlife and ranchers are better off. That’s win-win conservation at its best.