Since 2012, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has overseen an annual aerial survey to estimate the lesser prairie-chicken population across its range in the southern Great Plains. While the initial results were released in June, the aerial survey team has just released its final report detailing the survey results.
The report looks at this year’s survey findings within the context of the last six years of survey data. Over time, the data will provide important insights about population trends of this grassland-dependent bird.
According to the report, researchers estimated the total population size of lesser prairie-chickens to be:
- 37,108 birds in 2012;
- 19,471 in 2013;
- 23,064 in 2014;
- 28,875 in 2015;
- 24,779 in 2016; and
- 33,269 in 2017.
The research team also estimated a 55% increase in the density and abundance of leks (springtime courtship display and mating grounds) in 2017 relative to 2016.
Over the past six years, they estimated the abundance of lesser prairie-chicken leks to be:
- 3,470 in 2012;
- 2,228 in 2013;
- 2,719 in 2014;
- 1,713 in 2015;
- 2,053 in 2016; and
- 3,186 in 2017
Healthy, high-quality habitat is the key to lesser prairie-chicken survival and success. With 95% of the lesser prairie-chicken’s habitat on private land, the management practices of private landowners have a tremendous impact on the bird’s population. The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) is all about helping private landowners access technical and financial assistance for voluntary conserve practices that maintain and improve grassland habitat.
During the six-year survey period, the southern Great Plains have experienced significant drought and wildfire. In spite of this, the survey data reveal that population numbers have remained stable.
LPCI science advisor Christian Hagen pointed to the conservation efforts of private landowners as a key factor in that stability. “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,” Hagen said.
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.