Category Archives: LPCI Press Releases

New Report Highlights LPCI Conservation Across the Range

by Jon Ungerer, Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Coordinator, Natural Resources Conservation Service

A new  report highlights Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) conservation successes across the lesser prairie-chicken’s range in the Southern Great Plains. The LPCI report,  Conservation Across the Range, showcases the strategies, partnerships, and range management practices that are helping restore prairie habitat in win-win conservation efforts that benefit agricultural producers and wildlife.

ProgressReport2015CoverLed by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the LPCI partnership works to enhance lesser prairie-chicken habitat, one ranch at a time. Cattle and lesser prairie-chickens both need healthy rangeland to thrive. Through voluntary conservation efforts, farmers and ranchers in the southern Great Plains are restoring habitat for this iconic bird while improving their agricultural operations.

According to the report, farmers and ranchers have made conservation improvements to 1 million acres since the NRCS launched the LPCI partnership in 2010,  through such practices as sustainable grazing systems, removing encroaching woody plants, and prescribed fire.

About 95 percent of lesser prairie-chicken habitat falls on private lands, making these conservation efforts crucial to the bird’s rebound. The bird, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated as threatened in 2014, numbers about 29,000. The goal is to boost the bird’s population to an average of 67,000 over a ten-year period.

The report highlights the conservation efforts of a number of ranchers, including:

  • Ted Alexander, who has utilized prescribed burning and grazing to allow native grasses to flourish on his Kansas ranch.
  • Bill Barby, who is using a sustainable grazing system that promotes prairie health, providing drought-resilient forage for cattle and habitat for prairie chickens on his Kansas ranch.
  • Willard Heck, who is removing hundreds of acres of invading mesquite trees to restore habitat. Research shows that lesser prairie-chickens stop nesting in grasslands that have just one tree per 1.2 acres.

See the full Conservation Across the Range report.

NRCS’ conservation efforts for the lesser prairie-chicken are part of the agency’s Working Lands for Wildlife partnership, which steers public and private conservation investments that improve struggling landscapes, like the prairie of the southern Great Plains, while strengthening agricultural operations.

USDA Announces $50 Million to Help Producers Restore Habitat

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is making available about $50 million in financial assistance in 2016 to partner with agricultural producers who want to restore and protect habitat for seven focus species, including more than $2.8 million for the lesser prairie-chicken.

Conservation efforts for the lesser prairie-chicken are part of Working Lands for Wildlife, an innovative partnership that supports struggling landscapes and strengthens agricultural operations.

In making the announcement, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted that the decisions of agricultural producers have powerful impacts on wildlife and the long-term health of their own land.

Removing invasive redcedars in southwest Kansas.

Removing invasive redcedars in southwest Kansas.

“The partnerships formed through our Working Lands for Wildlife initiative have had proven success for bringing back several of America’s native species,” Vilsack said. “By managing ranches with sage grouse and other wildlife in mind, producers also strengthen their own operations, boost resilience and increase agricultural yields.”

In addition to funding lesser prairie-chicken habitat improvement through the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI), Vilsack announced more than $47 million available in 2016 to support six other WLFW initiatives for focus species across the country, including the greater sage grouse, New England cottontail, southwestern willow flycatcher, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, and bog turtle.

With the support of conservation partners and producers, NRCS launched the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) in 2010. Those efforts became one of the models for WLFW, which began two years later.

Since 2010, the NRCS-led LPCI partnership has worked with land managers to make conservation improvements on more than one million acres of habitat, benefitting the lesser prairie-chicken and more than 60 other prairie-dependent species.

“Working Lands for Wildlife helps land managers integrate wildlife-friendly measures into their working lands and also ensures they can keep those lands working,” said Jon Ungerer, LPCI Coordinator. “Conservation practices funded through LPCI are designed to provide long-term benefits for lesser prairie-chickens. These practices maintain and protect grassland habitat, which benefits livestock production and wildlife.”

Landowners in the LPCI Action Area  can apply for technical and financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program. NRCS financial assistance covers part of the cost to implement conservation practices that benefit the lesser prairie-chicken.

Interested landowners are encouraged to contact their local USDA service center.

Latest Video Shows Roots of LPCI’s Win-Win Conservation

What’s the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative about, in a nutshell? How does its work benefit lesser prairie-chickens and the private landowners who steward their habitat? LPCI’s latest video answers these questions and many more in a four-minute introduction to the LPCI partnership, which the Natural Resources Conservation Service launched in 2010.

Watch the 4-minute video:

New Guide Explains LPCI Conservation Assistance Programs

The array of conservation assistance programs available to private landowners in lesser prairie-chicken country can be mighty confusing. A concise new publication of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) sheds light on several key programs.

LPCIConsAssistBrochCoverHow long do the contracts last for each program and how do they differ from one another? Can a landowner take part in more than one program at the same time? Who should a landowner contact to get started?

LPCI’s new Conservation Assistance Programs brochure answers these questions and many more. It also provides a handy table comparing six assistance programs offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, and Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Read the LPCI Conservation Assistance Programs brochure [PDF]

High Resolution PDF

New Study on Habitat Use Yields Insights for Prairie-Chicken Management

“Great things can happen when researchers are willing to share data.” That’s one of the take-homes for Dr. Virginia Winder, author of a recently released study that examines factors affecting space use by female prairie-chickens. Sixteen researchers contributed to the study, which analyzed nearly twenty years of data on ten populations of greater and lesser prairie-chickens in five states.

Read the research paper.

Female lesser prairie-chicken (left) wears a satellite transmitter that tracks her movements (photo courtesy David Haukos).

Female lesser prairie-chicken (left) wears a satellite transmitter that tracks her movements (photo Jeremy Roberts, Conservation Media).

The study offers important insights about managing prairie-chicken habitat. First, Winder found that prairie-chickens actively select for prairie habitat. While prairie habitat made up 45-89% of the landbase of the study sites (cropland dominated the remaining landbase), prairie-chicken home ranges comprised 70-97% prairie habitat.

As Winder explains it, “prairie-chickens are using the prairie above and beyond its availability, which means they’re actively selecting for it.” Simply put, prairie-chickens need prairie habitat—cropland doesn’t provide a habitat substitute, and interspersing prairie and cropland habitats can affect the way prairie-chickens use the landscape.

Second, proximity to lek sites (springtime mating display areas) was a strong and consistent predictor of space use for female prairie-chickens at all ten sites. More than 95 percent of the 382 females monitored in the study had home ranges centered within three miles of leks during the breeding and nesting period (March through August).

According to Christian Hagen, co-author of the study and science advisor to the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI), this finding validates LPCI’s conservation strategy of focusing habitat improvement efforts on the range surrounding lek sites.

“The study substantiates that targeting specific portions of this prairie landscape—in particular, grassland habitat around leks—is the right way to go, across the bird’s distribution,” says Hagen.

Researcher tracks radio-tagged prairie-chickens (photo courtesy David Haukos).

Researcher tracks radio-tagged prairie-chickens (photo courtesy David Haukos).

Hagen explains that the females’ choice for nesting and brooding habitat seems to be dictating where males choose to lek. “In the absence of detailed research, leks can provide a strong indicator of the areas important to the viability of the population.”

Third, the data analysis showed significant site variation in the relative importance of other predictors of space use. Winder explains that prairie-chickens are dealt a far different hand in New Mexico than they are in Kansas, in terms of plant composition, rainfall, and levels of human disturbance. The birds respond differently to these varied prairie habitats.

“What we call a prairie in New Mexico is very different from what we call a prairie in Kansas, even though it’s the same bird using both those habitats.” Winder said. This suggests that generalized habitat management guidelines may not always be appropriate for prairie-chickens.

For Hagen, the study brings home the fact that prairie-chickens are truly landscape-scale species, evidenced by the finding that females use a median home range of up to 14.2 square miles of habitat during the breeding season alone. Given their need for landscape-scale habitat, lesser prairie-chickens require landscape-scale conservation—the central aim of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative.

Kansas Rancher Puts Expired CRP Grasslands to Work for Cattle and Wildlife

“My great grandparents settled out here back in the 1880s. So we’ve been at it quite a while,” says Dwight Abell with a wry smile. He and his wife Rhonda own and operate the Abell Ranch in western Kansas with their four children, Hannah, Laura, Wyatt, and Ethan.

Rancher Dwight Abell (photo Jeremy Roberts, Conservation Media)

Rancher Dwight Abell (photo Jeremy Roberts, Conservation Media)

Ten years ago, Abell enrolled his cropland acreage into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). “I’m not a lazy guy,” Dwight Abell laughs, “but I don’t like farming for 12 hours a day or the expense of doing it. Raising cattle has made us more money every year than farming has—we’re able to keep more.”

The mix of native grass and forb species in Abell’s CRP grasslands—including big bluestem, little bluestem, switchgrass, buffalograss, western wheatgrass, and plenty of insect-rich flowering forbs—provides prime habitat for lesser prairie-chickens.

When the 10-year CRP contract expired this year, Abell looked to the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) for assistance in shifting the expired CRP grasslands to cattle grazing. It’s a win-win proposition. CRP grasslands provide critical habitat for lesser prairie-chickens, according to Christian Hagen, LPCI science advisor. But, says Hagen, producers often need assistance to make the transition to grazing, which can have significant up-front costs.

“Installing a perimeter fence for livestock grazing can be cost-prohibitive. LPCI offers financial assistance to help with that,” Hagen explains. “The result has been a very successful program that takes these idled croplands that were converted to CRP many years ago and turns them into a working landscape.”

That’s good news for prairie chickens and other grassland wildlife. “We have a really diverse wildlife population out here,” says Abell. He begins listing some of the wildlife he sees on the ranch, including whitetail deer, mule deer, pronghorn, prairie chickens, and many native songbirds.

That grassland bird diversity is the focus of a study underway through the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies (formerly the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory). Abell’s ranch is one of the study sites for research assessing the extent to which LPCI conservation practices for the lesser prairie-chicken increase populations of other grassland bird species.

With LPCI assistance, Abell’s expired CRP lands will continue to offer high-quality grassland habitat to prairie wildlife. “I’m 100% committed—I’m not going to tear this out. It just works better for our operation to have cattle and grass.”

Learn more about LPCI’s role in conserving CRP grasslands for lesser prairie-chickens in our 3-minute video.

LPCI Partners Awarded for Conservation Efforts

Two Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative partners were recently honored for their important contributions to prairie grouse conservation. At its biannual meeting on September 24, the Prairie Grouse Technical Council awarded the Hamerstrom Award to Patricia “Tish” McDaniel of eastern New Mexico and Dr. David Haukos of Kansas.

Tish McDaniel and Dave Haukos both received the Hamerstrom Award for their contributions to lesser prairie-chicken conservation.

Tish McDaniel and Dave Haukos both received the Hamerstrom Award for their contributions to lesser prairie-chicken conservation.

The Hamerstrom Award recognizes individuals or organizations who have made significant contributions in prairie grouse research, management, or other support programs which have enhanced the welfare of one or more species of prairie grouse.

Tish McDaniel has been a central figure in the conservation of eastern New Mexico habitat and lesser prairie-chickens for more than 15 years. Dave Haukos presented the award to McDaniel and described her conservation impact.

“Very few individuals can match Tish’s depth and breadth of experience, knowledge, and expertise on lesser prairie-chickens in the Sand Shinnery Oak Prairie Ecoregion,” Haukos said.  “Within the next 3-5 years nearly every publication on lesser prairie-chickens in eastern New Mexico will be directly linked to her support.”

From 2005-2014, McDaniel managed the Milnesand Prairie Preserve for The Nature Conservancy. During that time, she developed partnerships and conservation practices that resulted in the greatest density of lesser prairie-chickens documented in eastern New Mexico since the mid-1980s.

McDaniel talks with Garth Coombes, New Mexico rancher and heavy equipment operater.

McDaniel talks with Garth Coombes, New Mexico rancher and heavy equipment operator, during a conservation project.

McDaniel was instrumental in developing conservation easements that protect a number of large ranches from development.  She co-coordinated the High Plains Prairie-Chicken Festival from 2002-2012, introducing  more than a thousand people to lesser prairie-chickens.

Now a range conservation scientist for LPCI partner organization CEHMM, also known as the Center of Excellence, McDaniel works one-on-one with private landowners and industry in habitat restoration projects that benefit the lesser prairie-chicken.

Weaver Ranch manager Willard Heck has known McDaniel for 15 years. He describes her ability to collaborate with people on both sides of an argument.

“You learn that not everybody has that gift, and getting along with people is the key,” Heck said. “She has a real gift for dealing with landowners. She’s honest and looks out for their welfare and looks for a common ground where it still benefits landowners, and they really trust her in that way.”

In presenting the Hamerstrom Award to Dave Haukos, Dr. Clint Boal described Haukos’ immense contributions to lesser prairie-chicken research.

“Dr. Haukos has authored or co‐authored over 20 peer-reviewed publications that have been published or accepted for publication,” Boal said. Most recently, Haukos co‐edited Conservation and Management of Lesser Prairie‐Chickens, a 17-chapter volume in the series Studies in Avian Biology to be released this fall.

Members of Dave Haukos' research team affix a transmitter to a female lesser prairie-chicken to track her movements.

Members of Dave Haukos’ research team affix a transmitter to a female lesser prairie-chicken to track her movements. (photo courtesy David Haukos)

Haukos helped pioneer the use of satellite GPS transmitters on prairie-chickens, providing insights into population dynamics, resource selection, movements, and more. He has served as principle investigator (PI), co-PI, or collaborator  in 18 lesser prairie-chicken research projects, supervising post-doctoral and graduate students in four states and three universities.

“Dave has been a pioneer in lesser prairie-chicken research,” says LPCI Science Advisor Christian Hagen, “from his use of distance sampling to his overseeing the deployment of GPS transmitters across multiple states and study areas.

“Without his efforts past and present, there would be gaping holes in our understanding of lesser prairie-chicken ecology,” Hagen adds.

In the nearly 30 years Haukos has worked with prairie chickens, his goal has always been to provide sound research results that can inform conservation planning.

“Landowners and lesser prairie-chickens share the land and are interdependent for their existence, so information and support for land use strategies that benefit both lesser prairie-chickens and landowners has been my primary focus.”

Heartfelt congratulations and gratitude to Tish McDaniel and Dave Haukos for their work on behalf of prairie chickens and the landowners who steward their habitat.

 

 

 

 

 

LPCI’s Latest Video Shows Win-win Role of Prescribed Fire

“The prairie has to have fire or it’s going to be gone—we’re going to lose it to the encroachment of trees.” Those are the words of rancher Ed Koger of southwest Kansas. He should know–he’s been applying prescribed fire on the Hashknife Ranch for almost 40 years.

LPCI’s latest video shows the win-win nature of prescribed fire for ranchers and prairie chickens. The story’s told through the eyes of Koger and fellow southwest Kansas rancher, Bill Barby. Don’t miss this compelling 5-minute video on the LPCI YouTube channel.

The video is the second of three that LPCI is releasing this fall, highlighting win-win range conservation practices on the prairie. It joins our recently released video on LPCI’s role in Conservation Reserve Program grassland management.

New LPCI Video Spotlights Conservation Reserve Program

How does the Conservation Reserve Program benefit lesser prairie-chickens and the private landowners who steward their habitat? A newly released 3-minute video from Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative answers that question. Fourth-generation rancher Dwight Abell and LPCI science advisor Christian Hagen offer their insights into the many positive impacts of CRP for both wildlife and land stewards.

AbellRanch,playbutton

 

 

 

 

 

Watch the video

New Mapping Tool Shows Woody Encroachment in LPC Habitat

Researchers from the University of Minnesota, in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Effects and Assessment Program (CEAP), have completed an assessment of woody encroachment in the Southern Great Plains that will aide lesser prairie-chicken conservation.  Their data informs a new mapping layer in the on-line Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT) map—an important habitat management tool for grassland resource managers.

cedarencroachment

Eastern redcedar encroachment in southwest Kansas.

Funded by CEAP, the NRCS-led Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, and Kansas University, the project maps the extent and canopy cover of woody encroachment across the lesser prairie-chicken’s five-state range, which encompasses portions of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.

Two species are responsible for most woody encroachment in the Southern Great Plains—eastern redcedar on the east side of the range and mesquite on the west side. Historically, regularly occurring fire killed off woody plants on the Plains, maintaining prairie grasslands.

Since settlement, fire suppression has allowed redcedar and mesquite to encroach onto grasslands, degrading habitat for grassland wildlife and reducing forage base for livestock grazing. Researchers estimate that redcedar is encroaching at the rate of more than 275,000 acres per year.

The new mapping layer will provide a broad-scale planning tool for resource managers to more effectively target habitat improvement strategies.  Because it identifies five levels of canopy cover, from low to high percentage, it also enables cost-benefit analyses for woody plant removal. It will also serve field staff working one-on-one with agricultural producers, offering a starting point for management planning, followed up by on-the-ground site assessment.

Access the new mapping layer at https://www.sgpchat.org/. Turn on the woody encroachment mapping layer by clicking the box next to “Percent Conifer/Mesquite” near the bottom of the layers list.