Category Archives: LPCI Press Releases

Prairie-chicken Restoration Efforts Take Flight in Southeast Colorado

Why did the lesser prairie-chicken cross the state line?

If Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) biologists are successful, the answer will be to rebuild populations of this uncommon prairie grouse, which has mostly disappeared from the grasslands of the southeast corner of the state.

CPW wildlife biologists Jonathan Reitz and Liza Rossi recently completed a month-long effort to catch and relocate lesser prairie-chickens from stronghold populations in Kansas. It’s part of a joint four-year operation between CPW, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, and the U.S. Forest Service to rebuild prairie chicken populations in a 330,000-acre swath of southeastern Colorado and southwestern Kansas.

Liza Rossi, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Bird Conservation Coordinator, and Trent Delahanty, CPW technician, release two lesser prairie-chickens on the Comanche National Grasslands during a recent relocation from Kansas.

The target recovery area includes privately owned rangeland, Conservation Reserve Program grassland, the Cimarron National Grassland in Kansas, and the Comanche National Grassland in Baca County, Colorado. Both the Cimarron and Comanche grasslands are owned and managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Historically, the region was home to large flocks of lesser prairie-chickens, but populations have fallen significantly since Euro-American settlement. By 2016, biologists counted just two males on the Comanche Grassland and five males on the Cimarron.

Christian Hagen, science advisor to the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) notes that, while translocating birds is a last resort in conservation triage, it can be effective when done in concert with habitat management or restoration.

“Conservation efforts such as those underway through LPCI and WAFWA [the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies] can help bolster these fragile translocated populations as they make their way in an unfamiliar landscape,” Hagen said.

Both LPCI and WAFWA offer technical and financial assistance to private landowners, who own and manage 95% of the land within the lesser prairie-chicken’s current range, to improve grassland habitat, benefitting both the bird and agricultural operations.

Abby Athen, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, uses calipers to measure a male lesser prairie-chicken.

Last fall, Reitz and Rossi relocated 13 males and one female to Comanche National Grasslands. This spring, they relocated an additional 19 hens and 29 roosters. And they have ambitious goals over the next two years, targeting around 120 lesser prairie-chickens for relocation to Colorado.

But the biologists are discovering a big problem with relocating the birds. Roosters naturally gather in what is known as a “lek” to perform displays designed to attract hens for mating. But they don’t adapt well when their lek is disrupted, often taking flight after relocation in hopes of returning to their home leks.

“Their home lek is the center of their universe,” Reitz said. “Many relocated birds appear to be very unsettled, having been removed from that center.”

“We have observed several prairie chickens having traveled 30 miles or more from the release site,” he said.

CPW biologists are hopeful that the new project, which targets a large number of birds and uses sophisticated technology to retain and track the birds, will succeed.

In the current project, each relocated bird is being banded and outfitted with a radio transmitter. CPW crews on the ground and in the air track the movements of the birds. The transmitters emit a distinct signal when the bird has died, so CPW staff can find them and try to determine a cause of death.

Biologists are employing some high-tech devices to trick the prairie-chickens into staying put after relocation. At release sites, CPW staff is deploying “call boxes” programmed to play cackles and other sounds male lesser prairie-chickens make when displaying on a lek.

“We have technicians on the ground tracking the birds as they spread out,” Reitz said. “We will be using an airplane to find them and point our technicians in the right direction. So we can determine if hens are nesting and whether they succeed in hatching chicks.”

Already, CPW biologists are seeing signs of success. Several of the recently relocated birds are remaining in the release area. And recently, CPW technicians documented a group of relocated birds “booming” together.

More trapping is planned in April 2018 and 2019. A doctoral candidate from Kansas State University will join the project this coming August to assist with the data collection and analysis as tracking and research of the birds’ movements proceeds.

Stay tuned for updates!

New Conservation Strategy Series: Prescribed Grazing Builds Healthy Grasslands

Our Conservation Strategies Series of fact sheets identify and describe LPCI’s core conservation strategies, which benefit ranch operations while improving habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken. Our latest fact sheet highlights prescribed grazing.

Download the fact sheet

 

 

Healthy range is productive, drought-resilient, wildlife-friendly range. Sustainable grazing practices keep grasslands healthy and build the long-term economic health of ranch operations. The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI), led by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, offers technical and financial assistance to develop a custom grazing plan and assist with conservation practices that make the vision of healthy rangelands a reality.

Good grazing takes careful planning. At a rancher’s request, LPCI range management specialists assess range conditions and ranch infrastructure to craft a conservation plan. Every grazing plan identifies conservation practices tailored to the needs and goals of the ranch operation, including such practices as water development, brush management, prescribed fire, rest rotation, deferment, and seeding. LPCI financial assistance helps ranchers carry out those practices.

Good planning develops contingencies for changing conditions, like drought. Every LPCI grazing plan includes a drought contingency plan that lays out a clear course of action to minimize long-term damage to the range. That’s good for the ranch’s bottom line, and it’s good for prairie wildlife.

Prescribed Grazing, Step by Step

1. Contact NRCS. Talk one-on-one with NRCS range conservationists to learn about options for getting involved in prescribed grazing. All NRCS assistance programs are voluntary and all conversations are confidential.

2. Planning. Our first step with landowners who take part in LPCI assistance programs is to evaluate existing conditions and develop a conservation plan.

3. Recommend Grazing Utilization. By carefully assessing forage production, the conservation plan identifies sustainable grazing utilization, which can spell the difference between robust range and range that’s over-utilized and damaged.

4. Plan for Drought. Quick, specific, science-based planning for the inevitable droughts of the southern Great Plains helps avoid long-term damage to the range.

5. Custom conservation practices. Water development to distribute grazing, brush management to remove encroaching woody plants, prescribed fire to restore range health, rest rotation and deferment—these are just a few of the conservation practices LPCI helps support.

6. Monitoring. How do we know if the conservation plan is having its intended effect and is doing well by the land and by the landowner? By monitoring range production and utilization.

Benefits of Prescribed Grazing

  • Drought resilience
  • Improved grass & forb species mix
  • More and better quality forage
  • Decreased soil erosion
  • Healthy habitat for wildlife

 

Rancher Spotlight

Russell Blew, Kansas

“We implemented an EQIP contract on this ranch that included brush management and prescribed grazing,” says Kansas rancher Russell Blew. “By clipping that grass and seeing what species we have out there, seeing what condition the range is actually in, we can put a finer point on our stocking rate. Some people figure 10 acres per cow-calf pair, some people say 8. When you start talking about a herd size of 100 to 200 cow-calf pairs and maybe even more than that, you really need to know how much grass is in a particular paddock. NRCS’s technical support brings some actual science into it.”

“Implementing those practices long term, it’s incredible to see the benefit of the range. We’ve seen desirable [plant] species get a lot better and undesirable species subside. We’re looking at 50-60 years of abuse in a lot of instances, and so it’s going to take more than a few years to get it fixed back up.”

“[NRCS’s] initial role is to help a guy get started and show him that by stocking the range properly, by rotationally grazing it and cutting some trees, he’d see how much better the range is, and then he’d implement those practices, maybe not just for the duration of the contract,  but for the duration of the operation of the land.”

To learn more about LPCI assistance, contact your local NRCS office. 


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 Mesquite-Removal Factsheet Spotlights Conservation Strategy for Landowners

The latest offering in LPCI’s Conservation Strategies Series gives private landowners an overview of the hows and whys of mesquite removal as a core conservation practice that benefits both ranch operations and prairie wildlife.

You can download the Mesquite Removal Conservation Strategies Series fact sheet (PDF), or read the story below: 

Conservation Strategies Series: Mesquite Removal

When mesquite overtakes grasslands, both livestock and prairie wildlife lose out. Removing mesquite increases forage production and improves habitat for lesser prairie-chickens and other grassland-dependent species.

For ranchers in Texas and New Mexico, honey mesquite encroachment can pose a real problem. Mesquite outcompetes desireable grasses and forbs. If a ranch’s stocking rates remain the same as mesquite cover increases, overgrazing can result, reducing the grassland’s health and resiliency.

While honey mesquite is a natural part of the prairie ecosystem in this region, its density has increased since the late nineteenth century due to suppression of natural fires and spreading of mesquite seed by domestic livestock. Depending on the site and climate, honey mesquite can grow to 25 feet in height with main stems as large as 2 feet in diameter.

Mesquite isn’t just a problem for livestock forage production—it’s a problem for native wildlife. Studies show that lesser prairie-chickens greatly prefer
landscapes with less than 1% mesquite canopy cover. That’s likely because mesquite provides hiding and perching sites for predators.

The prairies of North America evolved under the tag-team disturbances of bison grazing and fire. Bison herds grazed infrequently but intensely. Areas that went ungrazed built up dry fuels that supported wildfires that kept mesquite shrubs in check. Historic cattle ranching brought continuous and often heavy grazing that reduced the grass fuel load needed to carry wildfires.

Benefits of Mesquite Management

  • Increased grassland acreage and productivity, meaning more forage for cattle and more grassland habitat for wildlife.
  • Increased nutrients and water available for grasses and forbs.
  • Increased grassland health, which provides more resiliency and options for producers when drought hits.
  • Increased surface water flow and groundwater recharge for springs.

Managing Mesquite

Killing the plants. Chemical treatment of mesquite can effectively kill mesquite, if done under the right conditions. While hand spraying has the greatest accuracy, it’s very expensive, so aerial spraying is a commonly used option.

Removing the skeletons. Killing the mesquite plant isn’t enough. The mesquite plants continue to occupy potential grassland space, limiting forage production for livestock. What’s more, studies show that prairie chickens avoid mesquite shrubs whether or not they have leaf cover. The above-ground structure of mesquite can be removed by grubbing (digging the root system up with an excavator) or mowing.

Preventing re-encroachment. Prescribed fire is the least expensive of the treatment methods—a cost-effective way to prevent reencroachment. Fire suppresses young mesquite seedlings and limits the number of seed-bearing plants. Older mesquite plants will resprout following fire.

Rancher Spotlight: Bret Riley, New Mexico

Texas rancher Bret Riley, photo Jeremy Roberts, Conservation Media

In his Own Words: “The one thing my grandpa used to tell me over and over is that if you take care of your country it’ll take care of you. I think that’s where it starts.”

“The most practical way to control mesquite is by spraying it by aircraft, and that’s what we’ve started doing. Mesquite is hard to kill, and the timing of it is critical. We’ve had one pasture we’ve been planning on spraying for the last three years, and we haven’t got it sprayed yet just because the climatic conditions haven’t been right.”

“In areas that have been treated—the next year even—the grass back in there will be unbelievable because of the amount of moisture that is available, especially in an ecosystem like this where we’re short [on water].”

To learn more about LPCI assistance, contact your local NRCS office. 


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 LPCI Field Staffer Helps Landowners Help the Land in Colorado

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative connects rural landowners with technical and financial assistance to identify and carry out conservation practices that benefit prairie-chickens while maintaining ranch sustainability. The success of our efforts hinges on our field staff members, who work one-on-one with landowners. Meet our newest field staffer, Marina Osier.

 

“We can have good habitat and good rangeland production—they go hand in hand.” That’s the bottom line for Marina Osier, wildlife biologist with the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative’s Strategic Watershed Action Team (SWAT).

Osier is the newest member of LPCI ‘s field staff team, based in Lamar, Colorado, on the western edge of the lesser prairie-chicken’s range. Like her teammates in other parts of the lesser prairie-chicken’s range, she’s an essential part of LPCI’s mission to conserve and increase lesser prairie-chicken populations by promoting the health of grazing lands and supporting the long-term sustainability of agricultural operations.

With some 95% of all of lesser prairie-chicken habitat in private hands, the future of this uncommon prairie grouse depends on careful stewardship by private landowners. Fortunately, Osier notes, the conservation practices that benefit prairie-chickens also benefit the rural agricultural producers—ranchers and farmers—who own much of that private land.

“People want to help the lesser prairie-chicken and other wildlife,” she says. “They just don’t want to be locked into something they don’t want to do long-term.” Osier works with interested landowners to explore the range of voluntary conservation assistance available to them and identify programs that will work best for their particular situation.

Part of her work, Osier says, is to clear up misconceptions about the assistance programs. “Some people think we’re going to put chickens on their land and make them take the cows off.”

LPCI field staffer assesses vegetation during conservation planning process.

When a landowner opts to take part in an LPCI technical and financial assistance program and their land meets the criteria for participation, one of the first things Osier does is to assess the diversity, abundance, and health of the ranch’s grassland habitat.

She uses this information to create a conservation plan tailored to the rancher’s goals—one that maximizes benefits to both prairie-chicken and livestock. The plan identifies management practices—like prescribed grazing, woody invasives removal, drought contingency planning, and water system improvements—that help build the health and resiliency of the land. LPCI financial assistance helps ranchers carry out those often-costly management practices.

“I love working with landowners, hearing their stories, and hearing the history they have with the land,” says Osier. “My aim is to find common ground, through actions that preserve their way of life while preserving habitat.”

Osier’s interest in prairie wildlife has its roots in the Iowa soil of her childhood. “My dad was very interested in wildlife, and we’d talk about the birds, trees, and animals,” Osier says.

After graduating from Iowa State University with a forestry degree, she got a summer job looking at habitat for greater prairie-chickens. “I hadn’t heard of prairie-chickens before that job!”

Not long after Osier completed her master’s degree in Georgia, the LPCI SWAT position opened in Lamar, shifting Osier’s focus to the lesser prairie-chicken. In her new role, Osier aims to build connection and conversation with area landowners. “I want to talk with them about chickens—why they’re worth conserving, and how the range improvements that help chickens help their ranch’s productivity.”

Great to have you on the LPCI team, Marina!

New Mexico Range Managers Put Science to Work for Prairie-Chickens

Science-based conservation that benefits wildlife and landowners—that’s what the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) is all about. Over the past few years, LPCI—a partnership led by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service—has helped fund research projects across the southern Great Plains, aimed at better understanding lesser prairie-chicken ecology in order to fine-tune conservation practices.

For wildlife biologist Randy Howard, a new mapping tool developed by lesser prairie-chicken researchers is an essential part of his efforts to restore habitat for grassland-dependent wildlife.

Wildlife biologist Randy Howard adjusts the float system on a wildlife tank at the Bureau of Land Management’s Sand Ranch in New Mexico.

Howard oversees habitat management at the Bureau of Land Management’s Sand Ranch, a 58,600-acre parcel of land 35 miles east of Roswell, New Mexico. Designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, Sand Ranch is specifically managed as habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken.

Howard’s toolbox of conservation practices got major boost with the advent of a digital mapping tool that shows with unprecedented detail the extent and density of woody encroachment on prairie habitat in the southern Great Plains. In New Mexico, most woody encroachment comes from a single species—honey mesquite.

“That mapping layer has been awesome for our planning purposes,” Howard said. “Whenever we’re looking at mesquite treatment, we’re using that layer,” In digital mapping, data is organized in “layers” of information, with each layer relating to a particular land feature.

The effectiveness of the new mapping layer is compounded by another ground-breaking study by a research team under the direction of Dr. Scott Carleton of New Mexico State University. The study is the first to quantify the effects of mesquite on lesser prairie-chicken habitat use. Researchers found that lesser prairie-chickens strongly prefer sites with less than 1% mesquite canopy cover and rarely use sites with more than 15% canopy cover.

Results from that study suggest that removing mesquite in low-density (<15% canopy cover) is essential to maintaining or expanding existing habitat and reducing the threat of habitat loss.

When mesquite moves into prairie grasslands, lesser prairie-chickens move out. Photo: Charles Dixon.

Both Carleton’s research and the mapping tool development were funded in part by the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI). According to LPCI Science Advisor Christian Hagen, the targeted habitat restoration work underway in New Mexico is a great example of “actionable science.”

“This is the interface of research and management, where conservationists identify, fund, and implement habitat restoration in areas that will have the greatest biological effect for prairie-chickens and other prairie-obligate species,” said Hagen.

Howard noted the tangible impacts of this scientific research on his habitat restoration efforts.  “This mapping layer, along with Carlton’s research, shifted our thinking to prioritizing treatment of low-density mesquite,” said Howard.

This past year, Howard used the mapping tool to select three leks on Sand Ranch for mesquite treatment. “With the mapping layer, you can really see which leks need immediate attention and where you still have time [to do treatment at a later date].”

Leks are critical habitat sites, where male lesser prairie-chickens gather each spring to perform mating displays, spar with other males, and mate with females. Nesting often occurs within a short distance of the lek site.

Howard’s crew treated all mesquite within a ½-mile-wide perimeter around the three leks. Because the mesquite was low-density, the crew was able to hand-spray it using backpack sprayers.

The next, essential step in restoring that habitat for prairie-chickens will be to remove the dead mesquite carcasses, but that can’t be done for three years, since it takes that long for the mesquite plant’s extensive root system to die.

A tree masticator chews up dead mesquite skeletons, eliminating their vertical structure, which repels lesser prairie-chickens.

In the meantime, Howard will be complete treatment of three other sites at Sand Ranch that were hand-sprayed three years ago. They’ll bring in tree masticators to grind up the mesquite carcasses, using funding from the non-profit Center of Excellence, which supports habitat conservation projects for two species of concern in New Mexico—the lesser prairie-chicken and the dunes sagebrush lizard.

Howard recently received a $677,000 grant from the Center of Excellence, which he will use to treat 10 priority lek sites across eastern New Mexico. The mapping layer figured prominently in the process of selecting the leks. Biologists from LPCI, US Fish and Wildlife Service, New Mexico Game and Fish, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Center of Excellence, and BLM examined the mapping data and made their recommendations.

In addition to helping range managers identify priority mesquite treatment areas, the mapping layer helps in linking core habitat areas. “Using that mapping layer, we’re able to look at the big picture of habitat management, and we can see where we can connect lek sites with one another,” Howard said.

For example, he said, with the three lek sites they just treated on Sand Ranch, the southernmost lek is separated from the other leks by just ten miles. But because there’s a big swath of mesquite in those 10 miles, the southern lek is effectively isolated.

The mapping tool allows Howard to see where to create effective connectivity corridors. “We can blow a path through that mesquite with aerial spraying and follow up with masticators.”

The resulting mesquite-free habitat won’t just benefit lesser prairie-chickens—it will benefit all grassland-dependent wildlife and the livestock that graze there.


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.

Rangeland Science Journal Publishes Special Issue On Woody Plant Encroachment

Tune in on January 31 for free live-streaming from a symposium on the latest research on the effects of woody encroachment on at-risk grouse in the West!

What do America’s prairies and sagebrush have in common? Grouse, for one. And woody plant invasion, for another.

Species like juniper, pinyon pine, redcedar and mesquite are encroaching onto these landscapes to the detriment of  lesser prairie-chickens and sage grouse, as well as hundreds of other species that depend on healthy, intact rangelands—including people.

The January 2017 issue of Rangeland Ecology & Management is dedicated to research on woodland expansion in the West’s sagebrush and grassland ecosystems. All articles are freely available for viewing.

This month, the Society for Range Management’s scientific journal, Rangeland Ecology & Management (REM), released a special issue focused entirely on this landscape-level threat. Fifteen new research papers, all available for free to the public (see research paper list and links below), describe the impacts of the woody invasion of western rangelands. The research also evaluates habitat restoration using grouse as focal species—the greater sage-grouse in sagebrush country and the lesser prairie-chicken in the southern Great Plains.

For the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, removing these encroaching woody plants has long been a conservation priority through its Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) and Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI). Since 2010, LPCI has partnered with hundreds of ranchers to remove redcedar and mesquite, restoring rangelands and core habitat for lesser prairie-chickens.

Fires once kept native conifers from expanding into the Great Plains. In the last 150 years, redcedar and mesquite  have spread rapidly across rangeland, pushing prairie-chickens out of their grassland habitat.

Research articles in the January special issue of Rangeland Ecology & Management quantify the extent to which lesser prairie-chickens avoid both redcedar (above) and honey mesquite. Just one redcedar per acre is enough to deter lesser prairie-chicken nesting.

Conifers crowd out native perennial grasses and forbs, decreasing the productivity and richness of the range. If unchecked, the spread of woody plants can reduce the availability of water, food, and cover for grouse and livestock. Plus, woodland expansion increases the risk of soil erosion, invasive weeds, and high-intensity wildfires.

The new issue of REM presents cutting-edge research that will help managers and landowners fine-tune practices that address woody encroachment in both western sagebrush and southern Great Plains habitats, benefiting the wildlife and agricultural producers who depend on these rangelands.

The articles in this special issue cover a broad range of topics, including new mapping tools for effectively targeting conifer removal projects; the impact of mesquite and redcedar encroachment on lesser prairie-chicken habitat occupancy; and the effects of tree removal on sage grouse brood survival, songbird abundance, and ecosystem water availability.

Woody plant encroachment affects habitat for both lesser prairie-chicken (which inhabit the 4 eco-regions in the lower right of this map) and greater sage-grouse (all other denoted ecoregions).

To ensure this research reaches the broadest possible audience, SGI and LPCI have produced several Science to Solutions based on studies published in the latest REM issue. These brief articles summarize key findings and their implications for range management. Stay tuned as we release more Science to Solutions papers this month on the impacts of woody encroachment!

We’re also excited to announce that the research presented in this REM special issue will be the focus of a full-day symposium on January 31 at the upcoming Society for Range Management conference. This symposium will feature 20 short presentations by many of the authors listed below.

And thanks to funding from the Bureau of Land Management, the symposium will be open and available to everyone via live-streaming on the SGI website. Click here to learn more.

Below is a listing with links to the 15 research articles, as well as links to related Science to Solutions summaries by LPCI and SGI.

Rangeland Ecology & Management, Vol, 70. Issue 1

Woody invasion of western rangelands: Using grouse as focal species for ecosystem restoration

Click the research article titles to read the open-access papers.

Introduction and Summary

Special Issue: Targeted Woodland Removal to Recover At-Risk Grouse and Their Sagebrush-Steppe and Prairie Ecosystems by Richard F. Miller, David E. Naugle, Jeremy D. Maestas, Christian A. Hagen, Galon Hall

Woodland Expansion Threat

A Hierarchical Perspective to Woody Plant Encroachment for Conservation of Prairie-Chickens by Samuel D. Fuhlendorf, Torre J. Hovick, R. Dwayne Elmore, Ashley M. Tanner, David M. Engle, Craig A. Davis

Mapping Tree Canopy Cover in Support of Proactive Prairie Grouse Conservation in Western North America by Michael J. Falkowski, Jeffrey S. Evans, David E. Naugle, Christian A. Hagen, Scott A. Carleton, Jeremy D. Maestas, Azad Henareh Khalyani, Aaron J. Poznanovic, Andrew J. Lawrence. Stay tuned for LPCI’s Science to Solutions summary! 

Lesser Prairie Chicken Response

Lesser Prairie-Chicken Avoidance of Trees in a Grassland Landscape by Joseph M. Lautenbach, Reid T. Plumb, Samantha G. Robinson, Christian A. Hagen, David A. Haukos, James C. Pitman. Read LPCI’s Science to Solutions summary of this research!

Impacts of Mesquite Distribution on Seasonal Space Use of Lesser Prairie-Chickens by Matthew A. Boggie, Cody R. Strong, Daniel Lusk, Scott A. Carleton, William R. Gould, Randy L. Howard, Clay Nichols, Michael Falkowski, Christian Hagen. Read LPCI’s Science to Solutions summary of this research!  

Sage Grouse Response

Pinyon and Juniper Encroachment into Sagebrush Ecosystems Impacts Distribution and Survival of Greater Sage-Grouse by Peter S. Coates, Brian G. Prochazka, Mark A. Ricca, K. Ben Gustafson, Pilar Ziegler, Michael L. Casazza

Encounters with Pinyon-Juniper Influence Riskier Movements in Greater Sage-Grouse Across the Great Basin by Brian G. Prochazka, Peter S. Coates, Mark A. Ricca, Michael L. Casazza, K. Benjamin Gustafson, Josh M. Hull

Short-Term Response of Sage-Grouse Nesting to Conifer Removal in the Northern Great Basin by John P. Severson, Christian A. Hagen, Jeremy D. Maestas, David E. Naugle, J. Todd Forbes, Kerry P. Reese. Read SGI’s Science to Solutions summary of this research

Greater Sage-Grouse Resource Selection Drives Reproductive Fitness Under a Conifer Removal Strategy by Charles P. Sandford, Michel T. Kohl, Terry A. Messmer, David K. Dahlgren, Avery Cook, Brian R. Wing

Vegetation Response

Sage Grouse Groceries: Forb Response to Piñon-Juniper Treatments by Jonathan D. Bates, Kirk W. Davies, April Hulet, Richard F. Miller, Bruce Roundy

Ecosystem Water Availability  

Ecosystem Water Availability in Juniper versus Sagebrush Snow-Dominated Rangelands by Patrick R. Kormos, Danny Marks, Frederick B. Pierson, C. Jason Williams, Stuart P. Hardegree, Scott Havens, Andrew Hedrick, Jonathan D. Bates, Tony J. Svejcar. Read SGI’s Science to Solutions summary of this research

Human Dimensions and Restoration Paradigms

Conserving the Greater Sage-Grouse: A Social-Ecological Systems Case Study from the California-Nevada Region by Alison L. Duvall, Alexander L. Metcalf, Peter S. Coates

The Sage-Grouse Habitat Mortgage: Effective Conifer Management in Space and Time by Chad S. Boyd, Jay D. Kerby, Tony J. Svejcar, Jon D. Bates, Dustin D. Johnson, Kirk W. Davies

Sagebrush Songbirds Response  

Bird Responses to Removal of Western Juniper in Sagebrush-Steppe by Aaron L. Holmes, Jeremy D. Maestas, David E. Naugle

Extending Conifer Removal and Landscape Protection Strategies from Sage-Grouse to Songbirds, a Range-Wide Assessment by J. Patrick Donnelly, Jason D. Tack, Kevin E. Doherty, David E. Naugle, Brady W. Allred, Victoria J. Dreitz. Read SGI’s Science to Solutions summary of this research!

 

Science to Solutions: Mesquite Encroachment Impacts Lesser Prairie-Chickens

While scientists have long suspected that honey mesquite encroachment is a significant problem for lesser prairie-chickens in the southern portion of their range, a new study is the first to quantify its impact.

A new “Science to Solutions” report from the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) – a partnership led by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) – summarizes the study’s findings and management implications.

The study shows that lesser prairie-chickens strongly prefer sites with less than 1% mesquite canopy cover and rarely use habitat where cover exceeds 15%. This intense aversion is likely due to the fact that mesquite provides hiding and perching cover for predators.

Read the Science to Solutions report, “Mesquite Removal Restores Habitat for Lesser Prairie-Chickens.”

LPCI’s mesquite report is part of the NRCS Science to Solutions series, which distills the findings of emerging scientific research and identifies ways this new knowledge can help fine-tune habitat range management. It contributes to a growing body of science demonstrating the impacts of woodland expansion on native wildlife in the West.

Lesser prairie-chickens rarely use habitat where mesquite canopy cover exceeds 15%. (Photo: Charles Dixon)

NRCS uses science to target the best places and ways to work with ranchers to remove woody species and improve the health of native habitat. Since 2010, ranchers have made wildlife-friendly improvements to more than 6 million acres in the West, benefiting sage grouse and prairie chicken while improving livestock forage on privately owned working lands.

The study appears with 14 others in the latest edition of Rangeland Ecology & Management, the scientific journal of the Society for Range Management (SRM).

This special issue—which highlights cutting-edge research on the effects of woodland expansion on at-risk grouse species—is also the focus of an upcoming symposium during the SRM annual conference at the end of this month. The full-day symposium on January 31 will feature 20 presentations on the latest findings woodland expansion. The presentations will be live-streamed and free to watch on SGI’s website. (View the schedule of talks.)

Within the lesser prairie-chicken’s range, predatory birds are more abundant in prairie grasslands with mesquite cover than in open grasslands.

Latest LPCI Videos Showcase Prescribed Grazing, Redcedar Treatment

“There’s always been those numbers out there as far as stocking rate goes that have been a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants type of deal, but what NRCS’s technical support does is it brings some actual science into it.” That’s just one of the insights shared by Kansas rancher Russell Blew in a new 4-minute Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) video.

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-9-03-53-amIf a picture’s worth a thousand words, a lively short video speaks volumes. LPCI’s Prescribed Grazing video is just one of a trio of new videos LPCI will use for education outreach to landowners, partner organizations, and the public. Also complete is a video on LPCI Redcedar Removal.  In both 4-minute videos, ranchers and LPCI field staff show and describe how these range management practices work and how they benefit both ranch operations and lesser prairie-chickens. The third video, on LPCI’s mesquite removal practice, will be released shortly.

Watch the LPCI Prescribed Grazing video.

Watch the LPCI Redcedar Removal video.

These videos are available for viewing on the LPCI YouTube Channel and Facebook page, as well as our website video gallery.

Thank you to Russell Blew, Martin Moore, and the many other ranchers who were willing to take the time to share their insights during the filming of our new videos.

 

New Flyer Links Range Health and Productivity, LPCI Assistance

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-9-25-34-amHealthy range is productive range. That’s the simple message in our latest outreach flyer for private landowners in the southern Great Plains. When landowners adopt habitat conservation practices that benefit lesser prairie-chickens, the land responds in ways that benefit wildlife and ranch operations. And through the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, there’s both technical and financial assistance available to make that happen.

View the flyer

The flyer describes five core conservation practices supported by LPCI that improve the range for both screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-9-25-51-amwildlife and cattle: Prescribed grazing, drought contingency planning, conversion of expired
Conservation Reserve Program acreage to grazing, woody plant removal, and prescribed fire.

Getting that message to landowners in the LPCI action area is critical. Take a look at the flyer, and share it!

 

 

 

 

 

Landowners Offer Ideas for Improving Habitat Conservation Assistance

In May 2016, 26 private landowners from across the country met in Denver, Colorado, to talk with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff about what is working in the Working Lands for Wildlife partnership and what opportunities exist for improvement. Their insights are captured in a recently released report, National Landowner Forum: Perspectives and Recommendations.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 8.31.01 AMJointly coordinated by Partners for Conservation and NRCS, and including funding support from the Intermountain West Joint Venture, the 2-day meeting provided a forum to share stories of both successes and challenges in carrying out the vision of WLFW conservation assistance.

The participants had five primary recommendations for expanding and improving Working Lands for Wildlife:

  • Demonstrate need and build support for increased conservation technical assistance.
  • Promote effective communication with landowners, NRCS staff members, and partners regarding Working Lands for Wildlife.
  • Work on tools and techniques beyond communications that will help build relationships and partnerships at the local and regional levels.
  • Develop the concept of flexibility in programs, practices, relationships, and partnerships in order to advance Working Lands for Wildlife as an approach.
  • Help partners to identify the overall plan and vision for a landscape or focal species that will motivate participation and foster greater accountability.

The report notes that an overwhelming message that resonated throughout the forum was the importance of effective communication. As one of the initiatives within the Working Lands for Wildlife programs, the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative is taking these recommendations to heart.

Over the coming months, we’ll be working on expanding communications with field staff, landowners, and partnering organizations to fine-tune our message and increase participation in the voluntary habitat conservation practices that make a real difference for both lesser prairie-chickens and agricultural producers. As always, we welcome any feedback you may have.