Best known for their dramatic courtship display, the bird depends on prairie and grassland ecosystems that have evolved under the interaction of fire and large herbivore grazing over the years.
Primarily due to large-scale loss of habitat and fragmentation of habitat, their range distribution has been reduced by roughly 85 percent. About 95 percent of the lesser prairie chicken’s habitat is privately owned, making the land management decisions of producers pivotal to the bird’s success. Stewardship-minded producers are helping the at-risk bird and many other wildlife species by voluntarily improving the health of prairie and grassland ecosystems.
Producers in Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and Colorado are helping the lesser prairie-chicken rebound by voluntarily conserving habitat on their land.
Meet Ed Koger, a rancher in south-central Kansas who manages his pastures with prescribed grazing and burning, which simultaneously provides good forage for his cattle and habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken. “As long as I incorporate fire in my management of the prairie on this ranch,” he says, “I’m going to have more wildlife, and I’m going to produce more pounds of beef.” Learn more about Ed’s ranch.
NRCS offers technical and financial assistance to help agricultural producers to voluntarily conserve lesser prairie-chicken habitat on private lands. This assistance helps producers plan and implement a variety of conservation activities, or practices, that benefit the bird and agricultural operations.
Technical assistance is free to producers, through which the agency’s conservationists work side-by-side with producers to develop a conservation plan. This plan is customized the producer’s land and provides a roadmap for how to use a system of conservation practices to meet natural resource and production goals.
Financial assistance helps producers pay for the adoption of a system of conservation practices that improve the health of prairie and grassland ecosystems. NRCS assistance covers part of the cost. Common conservation practices for the lesser prairie-chicken include the removal of redcedar and mesquite and use of prescribed grazing and burning. See a full list of practices.
The lesser prairie-chicken is a nationally identified target species of the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) partnership, a collaborative approach to conserve habitat while keeping working lands working. From 2010 to 2015, the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (part of the WLFW family) enabled producers to conserve more than 1 million acres of prime habitat. From 2016 to 2018, NRCS aims to conserve 500,000 additional acres. Read our FY2016-2018 conservation strategy.
Through WLFW, NRCS targets conservation efforts where the returns are highest by targeting threats to the bird. For the lesser prairie-chicken, the loss and fragmentation of habitat is caused by invading mesquite and redcedars, poor grassland and prairie health and conversion to cropland. WLFW is able to provide technical and financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, two programs funded through the Farm Bill.
If you’re interested in technical and financial assistance from NRCS, please contact your local USDA service center. A conservationist in your community will help you develop a conservation plan customized to your land, and if you’re interested, apply for financial assistance through Farm Bill conservation programs. Learn more about getting started with NRCS.