NRCS launched the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) in 2010, establishing a partnership of ranchers, agencies, universities, non-profit groups and businesses that embrace a common vision – wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching. Learn more about the partnership by visiting lpcinitiative.org. Below is information on how NRCS is working with ranchers – through LPCI – to restore and protect prairie chicken habitat.
The lesser prairie-chicken, an iconic bird of the prairie, is found in grasslands and prairies of the Southern Great Plains. The loss and fragmentation of habitat have caused population declines, leading the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 2014 to list the species as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The current range for the prairie chicken is reduced to relatively small and scattered areas totaling about 17 percent of its historic range. NRCS is working with ranchers to address threats on private lands by restoring and protecting habitat while ensuring grazing lands remain sustainable and profitable.
Through LPCI, NRCS works with landowners in five Great Plains states to improve habitat for the the prairie chicken and improve sustainability and productivity of grazing lands. NRCS has focused its work on more than 10 million acres of core habitat in Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. The prairie chicken’s core habitats include short and mixed grass and sand-sage grasslands as well as shinnery oak prairies. About 95 percent of prairie chicken habitat that supports populations occurs on privately owned lands.
How Does LPCI Work?
NRCS uses Farm Bill conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), to provide technical and financial assistance to help ranchers and others landowners to put conservation practices on the ground. LPCI helps ranchers remove invasive plants and adopt grazing management systems that provide habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken while sustaining adequate forage for livestock. Grazing management plans also help ranchers select grasses that survive best during drought.
NRCS’ prairie chicken conservation efforts are part of Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW), the agency’s effort to accelerate conservation for at-risk and listed species while providing regulatory predictability for up to 30 years.
How Does LPCI Benefit Producers?
Conserving and enhancing habitat benefits ranchers and the lesser prairie-chicken alike. Conservation work provides better forage and grazing lands for livestock, and supporting practices can improve a producer’s operation and management. Additionally, by implementing these conservation systems, ranchers can continue ranching and receive regulatory predictability associated with ESA regulatory responsibilities.
How Does LPCI Benefit The Public?
The lesser prairie-chicken has been a treasured plains icon for centuries. Its beauty and distinctive mating rituals provide some of the best wildlife viewing in our nation, allowing communities, ranchers and businesses to offer tours and photo opportunities. Wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching can increase prairie chicken habitat while meeting the nation’s food and energy needs. Working with partners, NRCS is conserving habitat for prairie chicken as well as quail, pheasant, pronghorn antelope, deer, songbirds and other species that share the same landscape.
Additionally, these conservation efforts also protect critical water resources, important in an era of drought and water shortages that impact communities across the West. The prairie chicken’s habitat lies above the Ogallala Aquifer, a critical but declining source of underground water. Restoring and managing grassland and prairie enhances forage for livestock, and grazing management systems and other conservation practices support more efficient use of water.
LPCI partners are pooling resources, expertise and strengths to accomplish wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching. Unprecedented cooperation aims to recover the lesser prairie-chicken and sustain healthy Great Plains grasslands and prairies. Our partners include conservation districts, nongovernmental organizations, private corporations, land trusts, state wildlife agencies, universities and federal agencies.
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