Category Archives: News

Photo of lesser prairie-chickens on a lek, with ranch operations visible in background, photo credit: Laura Erickson

Chicken Challenge | Test Your Knowledge of Ranching

Photo of lesser prairie-chickens on a lek, with ranch operations visible in background, photo credit: Laura Erickson

Lesser prairie-chickens on a lek, with ranch operations visible in background. Laura Erickson photo.

LPCI’s work is focused on private lands – working ranches and farms across the southern Great Plains. These lands are critical to lesser prairie-chickens and to the hundreds of other species that rely on healthy grasslands. Privately owned ranches also help maintain open spaces, often bordering and operated in common with public lands. Test your knowledge of ranching with this Chicken Challenge.

Fun Facts:

  • Agriculture is one of the nation’s largest employer with more than 23 million jobs involved.
  • Raising beef cattle is the single largest segment of American agriculture.
  • U.S. ranchers produce 18% of the world’s beef with only 8% of the world’s cattle.
  • 85% of the land where cattle graze is not suitable for raising crops, thus grazing animals on this land increases the amount of food produced.
  • All “cows” are female. The males are called bulls or steers.
  • Water is precious in the arid West. Only 2% of the West is considered wet habitat. Of that, more than 75% is on private land.
  • The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative has worked with more than 800 landowners to voluntarily conserve more than 1.6 million acres of land.

Take the Chicken Challenge | Ranching


How do lesser prairie-chickens like mesquite removal? Ask an Expert with Dr. Christian Hagen

LPCI science advisor Christian Hagen (left) talks with rancher, Bill Barby, about his range management practices.

Dr. Christian Hagen is a researcher and professor at Oregon State University and a science advisor to the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative. Recently, Hagen was the lead author on a new study that analyzed lesser prairie-chicken’s use of habitat in New Mexico where mesquite trees have encroached on the bird’s grassland habitat. The study also analyzed how using a species like the lesser prairie-chicken as a bioindicator species can help land managers and others most effectively target habitat restoration that benefits multiple species of wildlife, including lesser prairie-chickens. We recently caught up with Dr. Hagen to talk about his latest research and what it means for restoration on the southern Great Plains.

Your study shows that lesser prairie-chickens avoid areas with “tall” structures like honey mesquite trees, but the reality is a bit more nuanced. Will you explain the impact trees have on lesser prairie-chickens?

The impacts are akin to a two pronged-fork. At low densities, these trees provide hiding cover or perches for predators that gives them undo advantage over the birds. In time, as the woody cover dominates the prairie, it chokes out the grasses and forbs that serve as the basis for habitat for the birds.

Are trees like the honey mesquite problematic to other species or to the southern Great Plains prairie ecosystem itself?

Yes, tree encroachment is big problem for all prairie obligate species. However, most of the research has focused on birds, and it shows significant effects on prairie birds in particular. Prairie birds, like the lesser prairie-chicken, are an avian community that has sustained some of the larger population declines in North America.

If mesquite trees are such a problem, why not just cut them all down?

It’s a multimillion-acre problem and removal efforts aren’t cheap. Additionally, mesquite is an excellent sprouter, so just cutting a tree at its base does not guarantee it’s gone. You may just make it mad! Finally, there are places where mesquite is meant to occur naturally and removal from those areas would not be ecologically responsible management.

Mesquite isn’t just a problem for livestock forage production—it’s a problem for native wildlife. Studies show that lesser prairie-chickens greatly prefer landscapes with less than 2% mesquite canopy cover. That’s likely because mesquite provides hiding and perching sites for predators.

What is a bioindicator species?

A bioindicator species is a critter that lives its life in a particular ecosystem, relying on the ecosystem for all aspects of its life. If the species is abundant in the ecosystem, it shows that the ecosystem is healthy. If the species is missing from the ecosystem, or is there in limited numbers, it suggests the ecosystem is in trouble. In a nutshell, bioindicator species are the “canary in the coalmine” for a particular ecosystem.

Why is the lesser prairie-chicken a good bioindicator species in terms of honey mesquite and prairie restoration?

The lesser prairie-chicken requires prairie vegetation to meet all of its life-history requirements. As this prairie transitions to woodland or savanna, chickens will no longer occupy those areas, thus showing that the health and functionality of the prairie ecosystem itself is declining.

Male lesser prairie-chicken during springtime courtship display. Photo: Andrew Stetter courtesy of David Haukos

You use the term “conservation triage” in your paper. What do you mean by that? How does your study help managers decide where to “triage”?

Just as a medical doctor in an emergency room has to prioritize how to treat all of the patients, we are applying similar principles to conservation. In short, we treat areas of mesquite with a high likelihood of successful restoration first. Those areas that have surpassed an ecological threshold because they have been infiltrated by high levels of mesquite trees may never be restored. Treating these areas becomes too costly and the time it takes for the prairie to recover is much too slow to make the investment worth it.

Our work helps identify those areas of early infestation that are “bad” for birds but relatively “easy” to restore both methodologically and financially. By focusing on “birdscapes,” it allows managers to concentrate efforts in specific geographic areas until the job is “done.” We have learned elsewhere that it requires watershed-level treatment to yield biologically meaningful outcomes.

How did you get the idea for this study? Have there been comparable studies done for other grouse species? If so, were the results similar to what you found?

Our previous work on greater sage-grouse and western juniper has striking resemblance to the avoidance behavior we observed in chickens with regard to mesquite trees. Earlier work by The Nature Conservancy’s Sharon Baruch-Mordo and other partners found that as little as 4% cover within about 0.75 miles of breeding ground (lek) was enough to lead to those leks being abandoned over time.

We implemented the very same analytical approach as Baruch-Mordo but with prairie-chickens and mesquite and found nearly the same pattern. We had a hunch it would be similar but not almost identical.

There is a growing body of research from different species of grouse, like lesser prairie-chickens and sage grouse that live in treeless landscapes, showing that with somewhere between 2% and 4% canopy of invasive trees, the land becomes uninhabitable by birds. It’s remarkable that both species abandon areas with nearly the same level of invasive trees.

Lesser prairie-chickens use four habitat types, including sand sagebrush prairie shown in this photo by Dwayne Elmore. None of the habitat types have widespread tree cover.

Much of the remaining lesser prairie-chicken habitat is on private lands. How do private land owners put your research into practice? Are there resources they can access that help them prioritize where to remove mesquite or other encroaching woody species from the southern Great Plains?

As you point out, private landowners are critical to helping recover lesser prairie-chickens. This study helps them figure out where to start restoring prairie habitat so their efforts will make the biggest difference for the bird and prairie health generally. The USDA-NRCS has technical and financial assistance available to assist producers in tackling this problem on their land. Various mapping tools are available to NRCS staff to help producers assess costs and treatment types best suited for their operations. Also, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program through USFWS is geared to assist with these types of treatments as well.

What is the key takeaway you want people to understand from your study?

Mesquite expansion is an ecosystem-wide problem, and it’s going to require significant resources to abate. Our work provides a road map to start tackling the problem, and that road map utilizes what we’ve learned about a charismatic and iconic species of the southern Great Plains – the lesser prairie-chicken.

Meet the Expert

How long have you been studying lesser prairie-chickens?

Nearly 20 years now…

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Dr. Hagen and his dog.

Making contributions (hopefully) to improving our effectiveness at conserving the last wild working landscapes of the West.

 What else do you like to do when you’re not chasing chickens across the southern Great Plains?

Chasing elk with my traditional bow and chasing other upland birds with my two bird dogs.


>>Read the paper in Journal of Arid Environments>>


Western Working Lands for Wildlife 2019 Workshop

Day one collage

Photos and post by Greg M. Peters.

For the past several years, the Sage Grouse Initiative, part of the USDA-NRCS’ Working Lands for Wildlife, has organized an annual workshop that brings together producers, land managers, SGI and USDA-NRCS staff, and nonprofit partners for a two-day event. The annual gathering provides opportunities to share lessons learned, network, and get training and tips on the most current conservation practices that help achieve wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching.

Participants at the first annual Western Working Lands for Wildlife workshop get ready for the day’s presentations.

Astor Boozer

Astor Boozer, USDA-NRCS, Regional Conservationist-West, addresses the crowd at the beginning of the day.










This year, organizers broadened the workshop to include more than 200 partners and producers from across the West, including Great Plains states like the Dakotas and Texas all the way to California and Washington along the Pacific Coast. This expansion brought many folks associated with the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative to the workshop. Rather than focus on a particular species like sage grouse or lesser prairie-chicken, the conference instead encouraged participants to keep their eyes to the horizon and simply work to achieve rangeland resiliency. Presenters shared inspiring stories about how they’ve worked across boundaries, both literal and figurative, to implement conservation efforts that have improved rangeland resiliency in highly diverse landscapes.

Rangelands are a truly western resource and make up 33 percent of the entire lower 48 states. These “see forever” landscapes provide critical ecosystem services like forage for livestock, habitat for wildlife, water storage and provision for communities, and more. They are also the foundation upon which many rural economies are anchored. Rangeland resiliency focuses on tactics that improve or maintain rangelands’ ability to provide these services even when things like fire, drought, or shifts in vegetation types threaten rangeland health and productivity.

Day One

The first-day “classroom” session focused on success stories and inspiring examples of how private landowners, nonprofits, and agencies like USDA-NRCS have teamed up over the past decade to improve rangeland resiliency with a voluntary and win-win approach.

Participants take a short break to enjoy the incredible view from the Canyon Crest Event Center.

Participants, more accustomed to riding the range and getting things done than sitting in a conference center, paid close attention to the presenters until the final panel wrapped up at 4:30 in the afternoon. Excitement and energy filled the room as side conversations and one-on-one conversations bubbled up during breaks. Across each of the presentations, a few key ingredients for building rangeland resiliency stood out.

  • Recognize that there threats impacting rangelands that affect everyone.
  • Work with partners towards a solution to address rangeland threats. This takes effort, trust, open-mindedness, and a willingness to work together for a common good.
  • Take the long view and recognize there aren’t silver bullets that will solve rangeland health problems immediately. Rangelands and watersheds can recover, but it takes time and sustained commitment to produce the desired outcomes.
  • Carefully plan the needed conservation practices to simultaneously address the resource concerns and meet the operator’s unique needs. All lands should be actively managed pre- and post-project to achieve and monitor outcomes. Conservation practices that build resilient rangelands don’t work in a vacuum, proper planning and management create the foundation for healthier rangelands.
  • Leverage science and technology to improve outcomes and make conservation efforts more efficient, successful, and scalable.
  • Don’t fear failure. Accept it and adaptively learn from it. This will improve long-term conservation outcomes.


In the evening, a wonderful barbecue banquet provided time for socializing, volleyball and networking along with stunning views of the Snake River running alongside Twin Falls’ Centennial Waterfront Park.

BBQ photo

The evening BBQ at beautiful Centennial Waterfront Park provided time for socializing and networking.

Day Two

The second-day field tour found participants on yellow school buses as they bounced across Idaho and Utah to see landscapes and project sites and to visit with ranchers whose work has benefited wildlife and their operations.

Up first was the Burley Project site in Idaho where USDA-NRCS, the BLM, and rancher Dennis Erickson have removed nearly 50,000 acres of encroaching conifers across private and public lands. Themes of whole-watershed planning, working lands, leveraging partnerships, focusing on efficiency, and commitment to outcomes echoed themes from the previous day.

Burley Site Photo

Connor White, SGI SWAT staffer, speaks to the crowd about the Burley, Idaho conifer removal project.

Dennis Erickson

Rancher Dennis Erickson shares stories about this ranch and the Burley, Idaho conifer removal project.









From Idaho, the buses rattled on to Utah where the group was hosted by the Tanner Family on the Box C Ranch, part of the Tanners’ Della Ranches operation. Jay Tanner provided a wonderful background and history of the multi-generational ranch and shared some of the successes from their nine-year long partnership with the Sage Grouse Initiative. Today, Della Ranches hosts golden eagles, beavers, sage grouse, big horn sheep, and more, testament to the fact that improving habitat for ranching and livestock can benefit wildlife as well. Just before the group sat down to lunch in the Tanners’ barn, the Working Lands for Wildlife team presented the family with an award for their outstanding stewardship. Read our Featured Rancher post about the Tanners here.

Lunch at Della Ranches

Jay Tanner, owner of Della Ranches, addresses the crowd prior to lunch on the field tour.

Following lunch, the buses traveled to a portion of the Tanners’ ranch along Grouse Creek where participants heard from Tyler Thompson of the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative and from the Utah BLM office about cross-boundary partnerships like the one on the Tanner Ranch that have resulted in whole watershed restoration. The tour wrapped up when participants pulled out their brand new “Low-tech Process-based Restoration of Riverscapes Pocket Field Guide” and analyzed the health of Grouse Creek.

To cap off the day, participants put away the field guides and donned WLFW work gloves to do some restoration. With gloves on, they added woody debris (the results of the conifer removal efforts on site) to Grouse Creek by tossing juniper limbs (some particularly eager members of the group grabbed entire trees) into the incised creek. While this limited restoration effort won’t reconnect Grouse Creek to its historic floodplain, it gave folks a quick primer in low-tech riverscape restoration techniques and provided a great example of using free materials found on-site – one of the key tenants of low-tech riverscape restoration.

Tree photo

Some participants went above and beyond by tossing whole trees into the creek.

Howard Vincent, President and CEO of Pheasants Forever, rolls up his sleeves to get the job done.








On the final ride back to Twin Falls, one might have expected folks to nap or catch up on emails. But instead, conversations about the previous two days filled the air. Folks excitedly reflected on the first-day presentations and talked about how to implement some of the practices they learned about on the field tour. Many of the participants noted how the conference’s theme of rangeland resiliency resonated with them and provided an exciting new way of approaching rangeland conservation across the West.

The organizers would like to thank all of the participants and presenters for taking the time to attend, bringing great ideas and stories, and helping create a shared vision of resilient rangelands across the West.

Day two collage


Chicken Challenge | Test Your Knowledge of Lesser Prairie-Chickens

Male lesser prairie-chicken. Photo Jeremy Roberts, Conservation Media

Test your knowledge about all things lesser prairie-chicken with our new Chicken Challenge! Every quarter or so, we’ll share a new Chicken Challenge that has some fun facts and tests your knowledge of the bird, its habitat, or other wildlife that live in the Southern Great Plains.

To kick things off, we thought we’d start with a quiz about the bird itself. So, go ahead and take the Chicken Challenge!

Fun Facts

  • The lesser prairie-chicken is the smaller of the two prairie-chicken species that live in the Southern Great Plains. The other, larger, one is the greater prairie-chicken. Both are members of the grouse family.
  • The lesser prairie-chicken’s scientific name is Tympanuchus pallidicinctus. This name reveals a lot about the bird itself: Tympanuchus (tim-pa-new-kus) combines the Greek word tympanon, which means drum, with nucha, the Latin word for neck. Together, they refer to the red air sacks that males inflate during courting and use to make their distinctive booming sound. Pallidicinctus (pal-lidi-cinctus)combines the Latin word pallid, which means pale, with the Latin word cinctus, which means banded. Thus, pallidicinctus refers the bird’s plumage, which is paler than that of the greater prairie-chicken.
  • Prairie-chickens obtain the water they need from the food they eat. They don’t need surface water, although they will drink water if they find it.

Take the Chicken Challenge | Lesser Prairie-Chickens


New FREE Low-Tech Riverscape Restoration Manual

“Let The Ecosystem Do The Work” – New Resource For Restoring Streams Simply

Free restoration manual explains effective & inexpensive low-tech methods for improving streams

The streams that thread through working lands in the American West sustain plants and animals, people and livestock. Unfortunately, thousands of miles of these precious waterways are degraded. This leaves rangelands in the arid West more sensitive to droughts, floods, and wildfire.

Click the image above to learn more and download this free manual.

Traditional approaches for restoring streams often involve costly fixes that change the shape of the waterway using sophisticated designs and heavy construction machinery. While this “form-based restoration” is appropriate for certain areas, it’s too expensive to re-work all of the streams in need.

Luckily, low-tech “process-based restoration” is emerging as an efficient and effective way to expand upon existing restoration efforts and restore more watersheds. This approach includes using low-tech tools—simple hand-built structures made from natural materials that have short-term lifespans—to initiate processes that allow Mother Nature to heal itself.

“It’s about letting the ecosystem do the work after a little jumpstart from us,” explains Jeremy Maestas, an ecologist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Since low-tech restoration projects are usually a fraction of the cost of traditional approaches, resource managers can treat more stream miles using these methods. Also, this low-tech approach gives land managers more options to address the vast network of wadeable streams in rural headwaters, which typically haven’t received the same attention as large waterways.

Practicioners learn how to build beaver dam analogues during an NRCS-led, low-tech restoration workshop. The manual was informed by these workshops to be a practical guide for all types of people.

In order to scale up, more people need to understand the principles underlying this new restoration approach and how to implement it. That’s why the USDA-NRCS partnered with Pheasants Forever and Utah State University Restoration Consortium to create a new, free design manual: Low-Tech Process-Based Restoration of Riverscapes.


This resource provides the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind the ‘what.’ Not only does it give practitioners nuts-and-bolts information on how to plan and implement low-tech restoration, it also summarizes the scientific ideas behind it. Jeremy Maestas, manual co-author

Joseph Wheaton, a fluvial geomorphologist at Utah State University and lead author of the manual, explains that many of the modern-day problems facing streams can be traced back to their “structural starvation”.

“These days, most streams are too efficient of drains,” says Wheaton. “They’re not resilient to floods, droughts, or wildfires, nor do they provide the structurally diverse habitat that fish and wildlife need to thrive.”

Building a beaver dam analogue in Wyoming.

Re-introducing wood or beavers to streams adds the structural complexity needed to set off a chain reaction that helps reverse channel incision, reconnect floodplains, and keep streamsides greener longer. Low-tech structures can be used to mimic natural processes—like wood accumulation or beaver dams—that slow down and spread out water. This helps store water longer on the landscape and minimize the impacts of floods, droughts, and fires.

Beaver dam analogues (BDAs) and post-assisted log structures (PALS) are the main tools described in the manual. BDAs were first used on Bridge Creek in Oregon over decade ago as a way to attract beaver back into the watershed to improve ecosystem function.

Extensive research on Bridge Creek showed BDAs were highly effective at initiating process-based restoration, producing population-level benefits for threatened steelhead. A recent study also found vegetation productivity has increased by 25% because of the project, suggesting that low-tech restoration pays dividends for ranchers too.

A completed beaver dam analogue on a creek in Wyoming.

To capitalize on the growing popularity of these low-tech, process-based restoration approaches, Maestas and Wheaton teamed up to host nearly a dozen field workshops for resource managers all around the West. The NRCS, Pheasants Forever, Utah State University and local partners have sponsored these hands-on field trainings where participants learn how to build BDAs, PALS, and other techniques to restore degraded creeks.

“The manual provides important information on how low-tech structures fit into the big picture goal of restoring self-sustaining, healthy streams at scales that matter,” explains Wheaton.

The new manual was informed by input from workshop participants as well as lessons learned from applying these approaches across the West. It gives practitioners step-by-step instructions for how to plan, design, and build low-tech structures. Importantly, the manual also lays out 10 principles that guide the whole approach.

This figure from the manual highlights how these practices can be applied to wadeable streams, which represent significant portions of most watersheds in the West.


“Our goal is to get more people off the sidelines and into the creek to participate in restoration,” says Maestas. “It’s quickly become a popular practice, since the structures are easy to build, results are easy to see, and almost anyone can do it.”




>>Download the manual>>

 >>Learn more about low-tech restoration>>

 >>See a story map about wet habitat conservation>>

>>Read new research on conserving wet meadows & streams>>


Conservation Successes – 2018 LPCI Scorecard

LPCI Scorecard Highlights our Successes

Since the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative first began in 2010, we’ve worked across the southern Great Plains to improve lesser prairie-chicken habitat, improve rangeland health, and build stronger farming and ranching communities, all of which has resulted in an improved outlook for the iconic bird.

In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that putting the lesser prairie-chicken on the Endangered Species List was not warranted, but we didn’t stop working to improve the bird’s habitat. Instead, we set aggressive milestones for the conservation practices we implement with our partners and producers. Our goal was to complete or exceed each milestone by the end of fiscal year 2018.

Despite our work (and the work of many others), threats to the bird’s long-term health still remain. These threats also impact other wildlife and even the ranchers and communities that also rely on healthy rangeland. That’s why we have continued to work with ranchers and our partners to improve lesser prairie-chicken habitat by strategically focusing our  conservation practices:

Click on the image above to read the 2018 LPCI Scorecard.

    • Support sustainable grazing management that provides nesting cover and supports native plants.
    • Increase connectivity of habitat.
    • Improve management of weeds and invasive species.
    • Reduce tillage on agricultural fields.
    • Protect, maintain and restore large tracts of grasslands and prairies.
    • Maintain stability of land use and conserve shrub-dominated habitats near lek sites.

The new 2018 LPCI Scorecard shows how we’ve done since 2015. Highlights include:

    • Total NRCS investment of $6.7 million in LPCI-related conservation and activities.
    • 69 contracts covering more than 250,000 acres of land for LPCI-related conservation and activities.
    • Removed invading conifers and mesquite on more than 26,000 acres.
    • Improved more than 370,000 acres of degraded rangeland.
    • And lots more…


Ranchers cutting cedar

Woody Invasion in the Great Plains Diminishes Water Resources

New research details impacts to water from encroaching eastern redcedar and other conifers on landscapes in the Great Plains.

> Download and read the full Science to Solutions report here >

A new study from University of Nebraska-Lincoln ecologist and Working Lands for Wildlife partner, Dirac Twidwell, synthesized decades of research on the growing impact of invading conifers.

Redcedar cuttings

Redcedar cuttings in Nebraska.

The Great Plains cover one-fifth of America and provide critical farming and agricultural lands, while hosting numerous grassland-dependent species, like the lesser prairie-chicken. Comprised predominantly of grasslands, the Great Plains depended on regular low-severity fire, which removed woody plants and maintained native grass cover. As historic fire regimes have been altered through fire suppression and land conversion, woody plants like eastern redcedar, Ashe juniper, and mesquite have moved into rangelands at an alarming and increasing rate.

This vegetation conversion is a national issue given how it affects the economies of several states that play key roles in agricultural production and wildlife habitat.

Simple transitions in vegetation can have far-reaching impacts. This study shows how trees taking over rangelands can affect working lands, wildlife and water in complex ways — even impacting our well-being in metro areas. – Dirac Twidwell, study author.

Illustration showing impact to water cycle from redcedar conversion

This illustration summarizes the alteration of the water cycle following a grassland transition to redcedar woodland. It shows the net loss to aquifer recharge and streamflow as trees intercept water.

Click on image above to download and read this Science to Solutions report.

Key Findings from the study:

  • Lesser prairie-chickens won’t nest in grasslands with more than one tree-per-acre and stop using grasslands altogether when tree density reaches three trees-per-acre. (Read a prior Science to Solutions about this here.)
  • Encroaching woody species are rapidly taking over native prairie in the Great Plains, which causes unfortunate ecologic, economic, and hydrologic consequences.
  • These impacts include: forage loss, increased risk of fire, decreased habitat quality for wildlife, and diminished water resources.
  • Model simulations suggest that complete conversion of rangelands to redcedar woodlands in the central Great Plains would reduce streamflows by 20-40 percent.

Fortunately, through a variety of Working Lands for Wildlife and Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative projects, producers and land managers are removing encroaching conifers. In fact, through Working Lands for Wildlife, the NRCS has worked with producers to remove encroaching conifers on 110,000 acres of rangeland in the Great Plains.

> Download and read the full Science to Solutions report here >

Conservation Insight Report Confirms LPCI Projects Benefit Birds and Ranchers

New Report Confirms LPCI Projects Are Good for Chickens and Ranchers

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Working Lands for Wildlife initiatives strategically implement conservation practices that benefit working lands, the wildlife that live on these lands, and the surrounding local communities. One way NRCS ensures its efforts are making a meaningful and lasting conservation difference is through the multi-agency Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) and its wildlife Conservation Insight series. In January, CEAP published “LPCI Practices Benefit Lesser Prairie-Chickens and Ranchers,” which highlights the win-win conservation solutions implemented by the NRCS-led Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative (LPCI) and its partners.

This report summarizes the findings of five recent studies that assessed conservation practices implemented through LPCI, including removal of encroaching woodland species on rangeland, using prescribed fire, and implementing grazing systems. The studies demonstrate that these practices benefit both lesser prairie-chickens and producers implementing the practices.

Click on the image above to download the report.

The findings are summarized below and the full report is available here.

  • Conservation practices applied through the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) are beneficial to lesser prairie-chickens (LPC), the land, and livestock in the Great Plains.
  • Even low levels of woodland encroachment into grasslands have negative consequences for LPC. Woody plant removal (mechanical, chemical, or fire) can improve habitat quality for LPC and other wildlife, and it can benefit livestock by improving forage and soil water availability.
  • Ranchers using adaptive grazing management with combinations of decreased stocking densities, larger pastures, longer grazing periods, and targeted forage utilization can balance economic and conservation concerns.
  • Managing livestock grazing on areas recovering from prescribed burns (known as “patch-burn” grazing) creates the diverse habitat structure and composition needed to support LPCs through different life stages and provides a more sustainable fuels management strategy than fire-only treatments.
  • Targeted application of prescribed practices for LPCs provides the greatest initial conservation benefits and improves the likelihood of success in long-term conservation planning. Land managers who focus on woody plant removal, grazing management, and patch-burn grazing methods within LPC habitat can improve habitat quality, facilitate the persistence of LPC, and promote LPC movement into unoccupied habitats. Expansion of these practices into unoccupied grasslands improves the potential for LPC to successfully recolonize areas from which it was extirpated.

 > Read Full Report Here >


WATCH NOW – Working Lands for Wildlife Presentations from Society for Range Management’s 2019 Conference

Working Lands for Wildlife video presentations from the 2019 Society for Range Management Conference now available for viewing

Did you miss the Society for Range Management’s 2019 Conference in Minneapolis this past February? Even if you were able to attend, you may not have caught all the different presentations during the packed few days.SRM 2019 Logo

Fortunately, we recorded the presentations that Working Lands for Wildlife sponsored under the “Harnessing Technology to Improve Conservation Effectiveness on Western Working Lands” symposium.

These nine presentations detail new technological innovations that are revolutionizing how managers, ranchers, and others can monitor, study, evaluate threats, and improve working rangelands across the West. Each presentation features the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative and Sage Grouse Initiative-affiliated researchers who helped develop these technologies for Great Plains and sagebrush ecosystems.

Through these informative and engaging presentations, range management professionals and producers can learn how to apply these innovations to their respective ranges.

All nine presentations are collected in one place on Sage Grouse Initiative’s YouTube channel and are available for viewing at your leisure. Each presentation is roughly 20 minutes long and includes clear audio and clear images from each presenter’s slides.

Read the full list of presentation titles, what you’ll learn from each presentation, and the presenter below or visit the playlist on SGI’s YouTube channel. While you’re there, check out the other videos we have, including prior SRM Conference symposium presentations.

Video One

PRESENTATION TITLE: Rangeland Analysis Platform: New Technology Revolutionizes Rangeland Monitoring

IN THIS VIDEO: See why the Rangeland Analysis Platform was created with a sneak peek into its future utilities

PRESENTER: Brady Allred – University of Montana

Video Two

PRESENTATION TITLE: AIM and Shoot: Delivering and Sharing Range Data Quickly

IN THIS VIDEO: Learn about the BLM’s new online app for faster processing and use of monitoring data

PRESENTER: Colin M. Dovichin – Bureau of Land Management

Video Three

PRESENTATION TITLE: Optimizing Productivity Models for Enhanced Rangeland Monitoring

IN THIS VIDEO: Hear how plant productivity is being remotely mapped to enhance conservation planning

PRESENTER: Nathaniel Robinson – University of Montana

Video Four

PRESENTATION TITLE: Mapping Riparian Sensitivity to Drought Stress: An Index for Evaluating, Targeting, and Monitoring Restoration

IN THIS VIDEO: View new remotely-sensed maps that can help managers improve riparian drought resiliency

PRESENTER: Nick Silverman –University of Montana

Video Five

PRESENTATION TITLE: Large Scale Rangeland Resilience Planning

IN THIS VIDEO: Get the latest on incorporating resiliency as an emerging theme in rangelands

PRESENTER: Dirac Twidwell – University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Video Six

PRESENTATION TITLE: Mapping Cross-scale Transitions in Rangelands

IN THIS VIDEO: Learn how technology is enabling early screening for undesirable vegetation transitions

PRESENTER: Dan Uden – University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Video Seven

PRESENTATION TITLE: Synchronizing Conservation to Seasonal Wetland Hydrology and Waterbird Migration in Semi-Arid Landscapes

IN THIS VIDEO: Understand the benefits of timing irrigation to aid in waterfowl migration

PRESENTER: Jason Tack – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (on behalf of Patrick Donnelly – USFWS)

Video Eight

PRESENTATION TITLE: Conifer Management in Context: Prioritizing Tree Removal Projects for Sagebrush and Woodland Obligates

IN THIS VIDEO: Learn how to incorporate spatial tools for songbirds into conifer management

PRESENTER: Jason Tack – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Video Nine

PRESENTATION TITLE: Quantifying Restoration Across the Sage Steppe: Mapping Conifer Cover, Removal Efforts, and Fire

IN THIS VIDEO: See how remote sensing is being used to track progress in conifer management

PRESENTER: Jason Reinhardt – University of Minnesota-Minneapolis

Video recordings are courtesy of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service-led Sage Grouse Initiative and the Bureau of Land Management

Patterns in Rangeland Productivity and Land Ownership and What They Mean for Conservation

Ask An Expert: Dr. Brady Allred, Associate Professor of Rangeland Ecology, University of Montana

Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest. ~ Aldo Leopold, Conservation Economics, 1934 essay from The River of the Mother of God: and other Essays by Aldo Leopold

Let’s start with a really basic question. What are rangelands?

Rangelands are non-forested, uncultivated lands that are mostly made up of grasses, forbs, and shrubs.

Where are most of the rangelands in the U.S.?  

Rangelands make up approximately one-third of the lower 48 states. Nearly all of that is in the western half of the nation, spanning the Great Plains to the Pacific coast.

Why are these landscapes so important?

In the continental U.S., rangelands comprise about 35% of the landscape. On a global scale, rangelands make up nearly 40% of the Earth’s ice-free surface. So, scale is one reason. More importantly, they provide numerous ecosystem services, which are benefits that humans gain from ecosystems, including forage and fiber like meat and wool, livelihoods like ranching, and recreation activities like hunting and bird watching.

What is vegetation productivity and specifically, net primary productivity, as it relates to rangelands in the conterminous U.S.?

Ecologically, vegetation production is the conversion of solar energy into chemical energy through photosynthesis. Plants use that energy for their own metabolic processes and also to grow. Net primary production is the amount of energy that accumulates as plant biomass. Productivity is the rate of production over a given time period. Net primary productivity (NPP) is the rate of increase in plant biomass.

Now, that is the scientist in me speaking. When people think of rangeland productivity, they often think of how much grass or forage is produced during a single growing season or year. This is commonly measured locally by clipping and weighing vegetation and then expressed in pounds per acre (lbs/acre). Nearly everyone who has worked in rangelands is familiar with this, and it is fundamentally the same thing as net primary productivity.

Why focus on net primary productivity? In other words, why is quantifying NPP helpful in advancing our understanding of rangeland conservation in the U.S.?

Two specific reasons: 1) there are well established methods to measure productivity across broad geographies using satellite remote sensing, which removes the need to go out and clip plants on every acre of rangeland; and 2) it is an ecological building block, a measure of the ultimate source of energy for all terrestrial species, and it is a “supporting ecosystem service.” A supporting ecosystem service is one that other ecosystem services depend upon.  Measuring net primary productivity gives a little broader perspective than just forage available for grazing animals.

Ecosystem Services Graphic

Ecosystem service categories as specified by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Examples provided are relevant to rangelands and primary productivity, showing how primary productivity, as a supporting ecosystem service, is foundational for the provisional, regulating, and cultural services on rangelands.

Vegetation production is one of the greatest natural assets we have. Being able to quantify rangeland production across space and through time allows us to assess that resource directly. We can evaluate the impact of our management actions on productivity, to see if those actions are helpful or harmful. We can see how productivity is changing in response to conservation practices, drought, or other factors and then plan appropriately. At broad geographies, we can understand the patterns and trends of productivity and develop local, regional, or national conservation strategies to sustainably manage this asset.


Your study looked at the comparative levels of NPP across public lands (federal, state and local), tribal lands, and private lands. What did you find?

Across the Lower 48, we found that the productivity of privately owned rangelands more than doubled that of public and tribal rangelands. We also found that over the last 25 years, there are no meaningful trends in the change of productivity, regardless of ownership, indicating that rangeland productivity has been stable through the years.

Your results match what a lot of people have assumed over the years – that private rangelands are more productive (as a measure of NPP) than public rangelands. Does this mean that private rangelands are better managed than public ones?  


The distribution for rangelands across the coterminous United States (CONUS) showing the spatial patterns of (a) annual productivity and (b) land ownership. The heavy lines indicate the delineation of western states, Great Plains states, and eastern states.

No, absolutely not. This work does not evaluate the management in any sort of way; it simply looks at the rangeland resource available. Those resources are influenced by a myriad of factors, including precipitation and soil. The patterns of productivity are also a function of how the western U.S. was settled: the more productive lands of the Great Plains were largely privatized, while much of the less productive land in the West incorporated into the federal estate or became tribal lands.

How does knowing the NPP levels for different ownership regimes and geographies help land managers (public or private) better manage rangeland in the U.S.?

Separating out the ownership and geographies really enables us to better understand and execute cross-boundary conservation and management strategies. Knowing that the majority of rangeland productivity is owned and managed privately–by normal, everyday people just like you and me–can help us structure regional and national priorities to implement the right management, in the right place, with the right resources.

And of course, this will vary with location. In regions where public rangeland is dominant and interspersed with private or tribal holdings (e.g., the Intermountain West), cooperation will need to exist to conserve the vast acreage of public rangeland, and the higher productivity of private and tribal rangelands. In other areas where public land is largely absent (e.g., the Great Plains), it will be necessary to focus efforts entirely on private rangeland conservation.

Your team analyzed a huge amount of data about rangeland productivity in the US. Did you find any trends?


a) Total production and (b) average productivity for rangelands across CONUS, 1993–2017. Total production and average productivity are consistently higher on private lands than public and tribal lands. Dashed lines represent mean values through time. Despite noticeable interannual variability, there are no significant temporal trends at the CONUS scale.

The droughts of 2011 and 2012 really stood out. Because the drought was largely in the Great Plains, the productivity of private rangelands took a very noticeable drop compared to public and tribal rangelands. It was fascinating to see it bounce right back though, regardless of ownership, indicating a very resilient system. By analyzing such a large amount of data over such a long time frame, our methods allowed us to easily quantify and illustrate this.

There were also no meaningful trends–up or down–of rangeland productivity over the last 25 years. At this scale, rangeland productivity has been largely stable. There are ups and downs, due to better- or worse-than-average climate years, but things have stayed relatively the same.


Your study points out that maintaining rangeland productivity is about more than simply conserving acreage. Can you explain what you mean?

Conserving large tracts of rangeland is absolutely critical for conservation. That conservation can occur individually with one owner (private, public, or tribal) or through a collection of owners working together. But what our findings show is that acreage alone just doesn’t cut it. The quality of rangeland, not just the size, is equally important. In this case, the quality of rangeland is being assessed through productivity, and size or acreage doesn’t necessarily lead to productivity. It is important that our conservation strategies look at the system as a whole, and that we work cooperatively to conserve the high-quality rangeland.

What does all this mean for public and private land managers and for agencies like the NRCS that can tap into technical and financial resources that help conserve and improve rangeland?

I think it really highlights the importance of partnerships and cross-boundary conservation. That is, we want to work together to conserve the best of what we have, regardless of ownership. The degree of these partnerships will vary based on location. The NRCS works cooperatively with private landowners, public land agencies, and other conservation groups to put the best conservation practices in place.

I think it also highlights the critical aspect of privately owned, working lands conservation. Rangeland productivity is a primary driving force for all the ecosystem services that rangelands provide. The vast majority of that productivity occurs on privately owned rangelands, predominantly in the Great Plains. If we want to maintain those ecosystem services, we need to work directly with landowners to do so.

What is next for the datasets your team created and analyzed through this study?

We are currently putting the final touches on this dataset and plan to make it easily accessible through the Rangeland Analysis Platform (RAP) ( Landowners, managers, and practitioners will be able to use it along with our other datasets to plan and evaluate their management actions. Basically, RAP will provide access to vegetation cover data, productivity data, and more. These datasets will make it more efficient and easier to design and implement projects and to monitor what those projects mean on the ground.

Meet the Expert

How did you get into a career studying rangeland ecology? What drew you to this field of study?

Whew, lots of different things. I really enjoy learning about rangeland dynamics at big, broad scales. I also like that this type of work can be used to improve things on the ground.


Dr. Brady Allred

Why is analyzing huge datasets across time and space so important to advancing the science of rangeland ecology?

I think it is really important to “pick our heads up” and look out across the landscape. It allows us to see and understand things that we commonly miss or look past. When we combine that with the finer scale knowledge we have, we are in a really good position to do the best management and conservation we can.

What do you like to do when you’re not “out on the range?”

I just love spending time with my wife and our four children. That can be exploring Montana, helping a neighbor, running, or eating ice cream together.

You can read the original paper, “Patterns of Rangeland Productivity and Land Ownership: Implications for Conservation and Management” in Ecological Applications here.  Authors: Nathaniel P. Robinson, Brady W. Allred, David E. Naugle, Matthew O. Jones

This work was made possible by the NRCS’s Working Lands for Wildlife effort in support of sage grouse and lesser prairie-chicken conservation and the USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Program.