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Voluntary conservation effort promotes improved lesser prairie-chicken habitat

Partnership with Pheasants Forever will provide $5 million for effort  

By Jocelyn Benjamin

There are only about 17,600 lesser prairie-chicken’s across its five-state range. Farmers and ranche
NRCS Range Management Specialist Clint Rollins provides technical assistance to rancher L.H. Webb for forage inventory planning to help improve lesser prairie-chicken habitat.
L to R) NRCS Range Management Specialist Clint Rollins provides technical assistance to Rancher L.H.
There are only about 17,600 lesser prairie-chickens across its five-state range. Photo by Linda Rockwell, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
prairie chicken graphic overview

Watch how farmers and ranchers are helping the lesser prairie-chicken.

LPL Infographic
Download the "Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative" infographic.

Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie today announced a renewed and expanded partnership to provide expert habitat advice to farmers and ranchers managing land within lesser prairie-chicken range.

“Our goal is to deliver a win-win for agricultural producers and wildlife,” said Bonnie. “We want to help farmers and ranchers succeed for the long term while also protecting and improving habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken. Often, what is good for prairie-chickens is good for ranching.”

As part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI), the agency is partnering with Pheasants Forever, a national wildlife conservation organization, to jointly invest $5 million over three years to support technical assistance, including hiring non-federal field conservationists to help farmers and ranchers voluntarily maintain and improve lesser prairie chicken habitat in the Southern Great Plains.

In addition, NRCS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently finalized a plan that can provide regulatory predictability for farmers and ranchers improving lesser prairie-chicken habitat, should the species be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Since 2010, farmers and ranchers participating in the LPCI have maintained or improved more than a million acres of habitat for the bird. The bird’s range includes parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

The partnership between Pheasants Forever and NRCS will fund up to 11 non-federal conservationists to provide on-the-ground assistance to farmers and ranchers over the next three years. The partnership has funded nine positions since 2011, in cooperation with local state agencies.

“Over the last several years, we’ve partnered with NRCS and western ranchers in a similar initiative for America’s sage grouse,” said Howard Vincent, president and chief executive officer of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.

“From those experiences and our three decades of habitat accomplishments across America’s pheasant and quail ranges, we know conservation can work in harmony with any ranching or farming operation," he said. "We’re confident we can help the iconic lesser prairie-chicken employing a similar recipe for habitat success.”

As part of the regulatory predictability plan agreed to by NRCS and USFWS, farmers and ranchers voluntarily applying lesser prairie-chicken-friendly conservation practices may be protected from additional regulations under the Endangered Species Act for up to 30 years. The plan, or conference opinion, outlines the following approach:

• Farmers and ranchers may voluntarily develop a conservation plan with NRCS.
• Farmers and ranchers can execute the practices listed in that conservation plan – such as prescribed grazing, fence marking and invasive species removal – with or without NRCS’s financial assistance.
• As long as farmers and ranchers maintain those practices according to NRCS standards, they can receive assurances and continue ranching with those practices in place should the lesser prairie-chicken be listed as threatened or endangered. It also provides for assurances should a chicken be accidentally killed on their property.

“The partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pheasants Forever, state fish and wildlife agencies and others is providing crucial tools and resources for voluntary conservation on lands that can benefit the lesser prairie-chicken,” Bonnie said. “It’s partnerships like these that can find solutions for some of our country’s most challenging conservation issues.”

For more information on how a farmer or rancher can work with NRCS to conserve habitat for the species, visit the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative webpage.