Category Archives: Science to Solutions

Science to Solutions: New Mapping Tool Helps Target Woody Encroachment

Lesser prairie-chickens avoid prairie habitat with just one redcedar per acre. In the southwestern part of their range, they strongly prefer sites with less than one percent mesquite cover. Range managers need to be able to detect very low densities of encroaching woody plants on the landscape  to target effective conservation efforts. The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative’s latest Science to Solutions paper describes a new mapping tool that offers that capacity and more.

Read SCIENCE TO SOLUTIONS: New Mapping Tool Helps Target Woody Encroachment

The new, high-resolution mapping tool will allow range managers to evaluate the landscape-level impacts of woody encroachment on both lesser prairie-chicken and greater sage-grouse habitat even at very low densities. This precise information helps target conservation actions and monitor results.

A team of scientists from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Colorado State University, The Nature Conservancy, University of Wyoming, University of Montana, Oregon State University, US Geological Survey, University of Minnesota, and New Mexico State University produced the mapping tool.

A  research paper on the mapping tool and its applications was published earlier this month in a special edition of Rangeland Ecology & Management, the scientific journal of the Society for Range Management, focused on the effects and management of woody encroachment as it relates to habitat for lesser prairie-chickens and greater sage-grouse.

A full-day symposium on the research showcased in the January 2017 issue of Rangeland Ecology & Management will take place on January 31, 2017, at the Society for Range Management annual conference. The symposium will be live-streamed on the Sage Grouse Initiative website (live-streaming is free and open to the public).

LPCI’s Science to Solutions summary explains the tool and its applications, particularly as it relates to lesser prairie-chicken habitat conservation.

SCIENCE TO SOLUTIONS: LPCI Conservation Practices Boost Lesser Prairie-Chicken Occupancy

Habitat conservation practices make a difference for lesser prairie-chickens. That’s the finding of a recent scientific study—the first part of a multi-year study—described in a new report from the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI).

LPCI, led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), works with partner screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-10-52-52-amorganizations and ranchers to improve habitat and address threats to the bird. Since 2010, more than 1 million acres of habitat in the southern Great Plains have been restored on working lands.

NRCS works with partners to monitor the outcomes of targeted assistance to private landowners, which helps determine if LPCI’s conservation practices are making a difference. However, accurately estimating wildlife populations be challenging with uncommon, widely dispersed species like the lesser prairie-chicken.

A recent study identified a new model for assessing lesser prairie-chicken populations, and it shows encouraging evidence that NRCS-recommended conservation practices through LPCI are working and that large blocks of intact prairie are important to prairie-chicken conservation.

Download the new Science to Solutions report.

The study assessed one year of data from the annual aerial survey of lesser prairie-chicken lek sites conducted by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and it looked at four factors that might impact site occupancy—patch size of native vegetation, percent of land cover managed with prescribed grazing; percent of land cover enrolled in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP); and density of primary roads. The research team intends to continue with a multi-year study that assesses additional variables.

Lesser prairie-chickens face many threats, including habitat loss and fragmentation from row-crop agriculture, fire suppression, unmanaged grazing, development, and drought. The species currently occupies just 16 percent of its historic range.


Map of current and historical range of the lesser prairie-chicken, showing sites surveyed during the 2013 range-wide aerial survey. The data from this survey was repurposed to assess LEPC habitat occupancy. (Click on map for larger view).

But in western Kansas, lesser prairie-chickens have reoccupied portions of their historical range and have even moved into areas outside that historical range. The range expansion coincides with former croplands enrolled and maintained as grasslands through CRP, as well as native grasslands managed using LPCI prescribed grazing practices.

A team of researchers tested whether there was a quantifiable link between land managed with prescribed grazing or enrolled in CRP and the likelihood of prairie-chickens occupying a landscape. Their results indicate that these habitat conservation efforts are working.

After developing an expanded model for assessing lesser prairie-chicken populations, the team found that occupancy increases as prairie patch-size increases, as well as in landscapes with ongoing conservation practices. Specifically, the results indicate that when lands are using prescribed grazing or enrolled in CRP, the likelihood of lesser prairie-chickens occupying that habitat increases significantly.

The report’s management recommendations include:

  • Enrolling acreage within the lesser prairie-chicken active range in prescribed grazing or CRP.
  • Maintaining large blocks of native prairie across the range through sustainable ranching.
  • Identifying potential landscapes with willing landowners to develop conservation easements, particularly if combined with prescribed grazing and other proven habitat conservation practices.
  • Implementing prescribed grazing on dispersed patches throughout large blocks of rangeland.
  • Cultivating diverse stands of CRP-enrolled grasslands that serve as connective tissue to larger patches of native prairie.
  • Retaining CRP acreage as grasslands after contract expiration.
Lesser prairie-chickens benefit from LPCI prescribed grazing. The study showed strong positive relationship between percent prescribed grazing and probability of occupancy.

Lesser prairie-chickens benefit from LPCI prescribed grazing. The study showed strong positive relationship between percent prescribed grazing and probability of occupancy.

NRCS outlined its three-year plan for lesser prairie-chicken conservation in its Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative FY16-18 Conservation Strategy report, which encourages adoption of many of the above practices—such as prescribed grazing, using easements to protect key habitat corridors, and providing assistance to convert expiring CRP lands to grazing—on 500,000 additional acres.

Learn more about these findings by downloading the new Science to Solutions report. This report is part of the Science to Solutions series offered through NRCS, LPCI and the Sage Grouse Initiative.



SCIENCE TO SOLUTIONS: Redcedar Removal Restores Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitat

The science is in! A new study by researchers from Kansas State University and US Geological Survey resoundingly confirms that redcedar encroachment on the Southern Great Plains greatly impacts lesser prairie-chickens.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 9.56.18 AMRead our Science to Solutions report about the study and the LPCI management recommendations the study informs.

Using GPS transmitters, researchers tracked the movements of 58 female lesser prairie-chickens  for two years on 35,000 acres of private land in south-central Kansas. They measured the response of the prairie-chickens to trees 3 feet or taller, 80% of which were eastern redcedars. Three key findings emerged:

  • Female lesser prairie-chickens did not nest in grasslands with more than 1 tree per acre.
  • They avoided trees by about 1000 feet on average when selecting habitat and nest sites.
  • They stopped using grasslands altogether when tree density reached 3 trees/acre.

LEPCs in the study area were forty times more likely to use habitats with tree densities of 0 trees/acre than habitats with 2 trees/acre. The findings make it clear that removing redcedar, even when present at very low densities, is critical to LEPC conservation.

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) uses science to develop management practices that will most efficiently and effectively improve habitat for lesser prairie-chickens, delivering the greatest return on investment.

In response to this latest study, LPCI has released its first Science to Solutions paper, “Redcedar Removal Restores LEPC Habitat,” identifying conservation practices aligned with these scientific findings. The recommendations center on three key strategies:

  • Focus on stands with low-density redcedar encroachment, giving priority to sites within LEPC focal areas and connectivity zones, and sites already occupied by LEPC or adjacent to occupied sites.
  • Use mechanical cutting or prescribed fire to remove all redcedar trees on treated acres.
  • Use prescribed fire to maintain or restore open grasslands. Regular use of prescribed fire is a cost-effective way to prevent woody encroachment on grasslands.

Read the full Science to Solutions paper for details!