Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative
The Lesser Prairie-Chicken is a grassland-nesting upland bird found in mixed grass, sand-sage and shinnery oak prairies of western Kansas, southeast Colorado, northwest Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle, and eastern New Mexico. The chicken once occupied vast regions of these states.
Populations of this at-risk species and the size of their range (habitat) have declined significantly because of loss of native prairie as well as fragmented and degraded habitat. These factors, combined with recent droughts, have taken its toll on this iconic bird, known for its mating rituals. Nearly 18,000 birds now roam its range.
As a result, NRCS expanded its conservation efforts on private lands in portions of the five states. NRCS established the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) to help ranchers and farmers maintain the viability and profitability of their operations and voluntarily create and enhance Lesser Prairie-Chicken habitat.
NRCS provides financial and technical assistance for agricultural producers to voluntarily implement conservation practices that promote healthy grazing lands and benefit the Lesser Prairie-Chicken and other wildlife. Ranchers and farmers use the assistance provided through LPCI to implement grazing management systems, remove invasive plants, plant grasses and shrubs suitable for rangeland, and plant buffers to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality. In most cases, practices that are good for the bird are good for ranching and can lead to improved rangeland health.
Agricultural producers with land in the Lesser Prairie-Chicken range can gain regulatory predictability if they work with NRCS to voluntarily undertake conservation activities that benefit the bird's population and habitat. An agreement between USDA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) states that ranchers and farmers can receive regulatory assurances from USFWS for up to 30 years for carrying out these voluntary conservation activities regardless of the regulatory status of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. The bird is a candidate under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The following Farm Bill programs help ranchers to improve Lesser Prairie-Chicken habitat: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the newly established Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which now includes the former Grasslands Reserve Program.
- Develop grazing management systems that promote healthy rangelands and the vegetative structure required for nesting and brood-rearing habitats
- Increase connectivity of existing lesser prairie chicken habitat
- Improve weed and invasive species management
- Reduce tillage on agricultural fields
- Protect, maintain, and restore large tracts of native oak/tallgrass or sand sagebrush grassland.
- Maintain stability of land use, and conserve shrub-dominated habitats near Prairie-Chicken lek sites
- Promote use of government programs that provide incentives for development or restoration of habitat on private lands
- Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat Assessment for Sandsagerbrush and Grassland Habitats (140.6 KB)
- Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat Assessment for Sand Shinnery Oak & Grassland Habitats (PDF, 138.96 KB)
- Use of the WHEG for Conservation Planning under the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (PDF, 53 KB)
- The Biology and Ecology of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken, 2012 (PDF, 3.78 MB)
- An Assessment of Herbicide Treatment and Grazing on Lesser Prairie-Chicken Survival,
Nest Site Selection, and Brood Site Selection in Eastern New Mexico (PDF, 3.10 MB)
- Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Vegetation Monitoring Protocols and Data Entry Forms (PDF, 488KB)
- NRCS Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Vegetation Monitoring Protocol - PowerPoint Presentation saved in PDF (PDF, 488 KB)
- Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitat Threats Checklist (PDF, 31.13 KB)
- Summary of Field Trainings (Kansas - March 13 & 14, Texas -March 20 & 21, New Mexico - March 22 & 23) (PDF, 95.94 KB)
Additional Lesser Prairie-Chicken Resources
National Wildlife Partners
Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory
Playa Lakes Joint Venture
The Nature Conservancy
State Wildlife Agency Partners
Colorado Department of Natural Resources
Kansas Department of Wildlife
New Mexico Game and Fish
Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
Texas Parks and Wildlife