Category Archives: Science to Solutions

Scientists using telemetry

Quantifying Outcomes Improves Conservation Effectiveness

Scientists using telemetry

Outcome-focused science plays a key role in Working Lands for Wildlife’s approach to conservation on private lands. Photo: Kenton Rowe.

The agricultural rangelands that span the western United States generate economic revenue for rural communities and produce food and fiber for the nation. These rolling grasslands, silvery sagebrush flats, and green meadows are also home to world- class wildlife populations, including hundreds of different kinds of birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

This infographic highlights some of WLFW’s conservation outcomes. Click to download it. Infographic by: Emily Harrington.

It can be challenging for ranchers to maintain these grazing lands for future generations, especially when faced with drought, development, and commodity price swings. Conserving America’s vast working rangelands requires a proactive, collaborative, landscape-scale approach that keeps agricultural operations profitable and wildlife habitat productive.

One key pillar to advancing conservation on private lands is sound science. That’s why WLFW has partnered with the NRCS’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project to co-produce 37 peer-reviewed research studies over the past decade that document outcomes from Farm Bill-funded conservation practices on rangelands.

WLFW relies on science-based targeting tools to: 1) pinpoint where to invest limited resources, 2) evaluate outcomes to quantify the results, and 3) improve conservation delivery to benefit people and wildlife.

Taking a team approach to quantify conservation outcomes brings accountability for taxpayers, and also illustrates the important role of science in keeping our nation’s working lands productive. ~ Charles Rewa, NRCS Resource Inventory and Assessment Division

A new Science to Solutions Report details some of the conservation outcomes studied by CEAP and WLFW.

>>Download the Science to Solutions Report<<

The report summarizes outcomes from four key conservation practices WLFW employs. Read on for the details.

Removing encroaching conifers from sagebrush-steppe rangelands:

WLFW has helped landowners restore rangelands by strategically removing encroaching woody species on 780,000 acres of prime grazing lands in the western U.S., generating the following outcomes.

  • Greater sage-grouse population growth rates are 12% higher in grazing lands where advancing trees have been removed. Within three years of conifer treatments, 29% of studied sage grouse hens were nesting within and near restored grazing lands. Read more about this study.
  • Songbird abundance doubled following tree removal in sagebrush landscapes for at-risk species like the Brewer’s sparrow, green-tailed towhee, and vesper sparrow. Read more about how WLFW practices benefit songbirds.

Stemming the loss of intact rangelands:

WLFW has secured over 200 individual easements that conserve 567,100 acres of ranchlands, and also implemented improved grazing strategies to improve 3.6 million acres of prime rangelands. In Montana alone, partners have protected 190,000 acres of at-risk grazing lands since 2010, a six-fold increase in easements over all prior years. This work has generated the following outcomes:

Restoring wet habitats:

During the summer, wet habitats cover less than 2% of the western landscape, but more than 80% of these vital resources are located on privately owned ranchlands. Research shows sage grouse cluster 85% of their breeding sites within 6 miles of wet habitats in order for hens and chicks to access “green groceries” near water in the late summer and fall.

WLFW and its partners have led 11 hands-on field workshops that trained more than 400 resource managers and landowners to use simple, cost- effective methods that restore precious wet habitat.

  • Low-tech methods of restoring wet habitat (such as hand-built stone structures, mimicking beaver dams, or grazing management) increase vegetation productivity by up to 25% and keep riparian areas greener longer. Read about the importance of conserving wet habitats.

Turning science into action:

In addition to examining on-the-ground outcomes, CEAP and WLFW help bridge the gap between science and implementation by creating easy-to-use technology and tools that empower ranchers and resource managers to effectively conserve working lands. One example is the Rangeland Analysis Platform (RAP), a free online tool powered by Google’s Earth Engine. RAP merges decades of field data and remote satellite imagery to show how rangeland plant cover has changed at the watershed, ranch, or pasture scale.

Incorporating science and focusing on conservation outcomes improves the efficiency and effectiveness of Farm Bill programs so that they achieve the biggest benefits for wildlife, rural communities, and agricultural operations. By putting science directly into the hands of conservation practitioners, CEAP and WLFW are helping to maintain productive and profitable rangelands throughout the American West.

>>Download the Science to Solutions Report<<


Conserving prairies for chickens helps millions of songbirds too

New study evaluates how private lands enrolled in the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative and the Conservation Reserve Program benefit songbirds.

>Download the full Science to Solutions Report here>>

A new study done in partnership with the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, CEAP Wildlife, and Playa Lakes Joint Venture as part of the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions Program, highlights population benefits for many species of songbirds that use prairie habitat alongside lesser prairie-chickens. The key take away from the study? Conservation practices contributed to an increase of 2.4 million songbirds across the region.

Grasshopper sparrow (Alan Schmierer), eastern meadowlark (John Sutton) and Cassin’s sparrow (Alan Schmierer) are some of the songbirds evaluated in the research. All three showed impressive population gains following the implementation of conservation practices through LPCI and CRP.

Healthy prairies are a vital resource for agricultural producers and wildlife. They provide a mix of grasses and forbs that supply protein-rich forage for livestock as well as habitat for numerous grassland birds like lesser prairie-chickens.

Unfortunately, in North America’s Great Plains, this asset is at risk from development, conversion to croplands, and other intensive land use practices that fragment or degrade our grasslands and prairies. Ninety-five percent of the land in the Southern Great Plains is privately owned, making voluntary conservation on private lands a key strategy in preserving and improving the prairie habitat that supports lesser prairie-chickens and dozens of other songbirds.

From 2015 to 2017, researchers monitored birds on ranches in CO, KS, OK, NM, and TX that had implemented conservation practices. The study compared avian population densities on private land enrolled in either the Conservation Reserve Program or that had established prescribed grazing plans through the USDA-NRCS’s Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative to reference grasslands in the region.

In total, the conservation practices contributed to improved regional abundance for:

  • 14 of 27 species of grassland generalists, 10 of which are declining
  • 10 of 13 species of grassland obligates, 7 of which are declining
  • Conservation-related population increases amounted to 2.4 MILLION MORE SONGBIRDS in the study area, including these species-specific gains:
    • 17% of the Cassin’s sparrow population
    • 21% of the eastern meadowlark population
    • 16% of the grasshopper sparrow population

Livestock grazing is compatible with maintaining healthy grasslands, as demonstrated by the variety and abundance of birds on well-managed ranch lands. ~  David Pavlacky, Research Ecologist, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, lead author on the study.

Key findings from the study:

  • In the southern Great Plains, several bird species that depend on healthy grasslands are in decline.
  • Researchers found that conservation practices contributed to improved regional abundance for 24 of the 40 grassland bird species studied, over half of which are in decline, amounting to 2.4 million more songbirds.
  • Ranches enrolled in prescribed grazing through the NRCS Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative showed the greatest variety and abundance of grassland-dependent birds.

CRP grasslands, western Kansas. Photo: Megan Waechter.

Prior research has also shown that lesser prairie-chickens increase their use of grasslands following the implementation of prescribed grazing and other conservation practices promoted by LPCI.

Additionally, research commissioned by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, showed that lesser prairie-chicken populations expanded following a 2009-2012 drought in the Great Plains. Many of the population-level increases occurred on lands enrolled in LPCI and CRP conservation programs. While the rebound cannot be directly contributed to conservation practices implemented through LPCI or CRP, the birds did take advantage of restored habitat when it was available.

Taken together, these studies highlight how conserving lands for lesser prairie-chickens sets the stage for increased population levels of multiple bird species, including lesser prairie-chickens and songbirds, while also improving the productivity of grasslands for ranchers. That’s win-win conservation at its best.

<<Download the full Science to Solutions Report here>>


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 >

Research Says, Adjusting Grazing Practices Can Improve Prairie-Chicken Habitat

When it comes to creating the diverse grassland structure that lesser prairie-chickens need, prescribed burning–and particularly patch-burn grazing–is a go-to, cost-efficient management strategy. But weather conditions in the semi-arid southern Great Plains can stand in the way of implementing prescribed fire plans. That’s why range managers need a variety of conservation practices in their toolbox to create and maintain the mosaic of grassland habitat that lesser prairie-chickens and other grassland-dependent wildlife species depend on.

A new study by researchers at Kansas State University identifies specific grazing practices—targeted forage utilization goals, decreased stocking density, and larger pastures—that create the varied grassland habitat structure that lesser prairie-chickens need. The latest Science to Solutions report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service-led Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative describes the research and what it means for on-the-ground management strategies.

Read the Science to Solutions report, “Grazing Practices Foster Diverse Grassland Habitat.”

What the Study Found

Past research has shown that intensive grazing management (standardized forage utilization goals, smaller pastures, and short-duration grazing periods) can harm grassland ecosystem function, and that producers can increase grassland structural diversity by properly adjusting forage utilization goals, decreasing stocking density, and increasing pasture pasture size.

The recently released study, led by John Kraft, is the first to assess whether these structural diversity-producing grazing strategies have a significant effect on lesser prairie-chicken habitat selection.

The new research shows that  non-breeding lesser prairie-chickens preferred grasslands with 35-45% forage utilization and that use steadily declined when forage utilization topped 50%. Breeding females placed all nests in pastures with less than 40% forage utilization, and the greatest number of nests were placed on sites with forage utilization between 0 and 20%. As grazing pressure increased, daily nest survival fell.

Using computer modeling, researchers then investigated how lesser prairie-chickens utilize grasslands managed with grazing strategies known to increase structural diversity. They found that, regardless of the forage utilization value, lesser prairie-chicken habitat use increased significantly with lower stocking densities, and that larger pasture size increased habitat use. Their findings have important implications for range management within the lesser prairie-chicken’s active range in the southern Great Plains.

What it Means for Range Management

Female prairie-chickens nest in habitat with tall, dense vegetation, then move their broods to habitat with more insect-rich forbs and more bare ground, which allows for greater mobility for chicks. When range management does not create adequate grassland structural variety to meet changing seasonal needs, lesser prairie-chicken populations decline. (Photo: David Haukos)

Stocking density is a crucial indicator for maintaining or improving lesser prairie-chicken habitat. Many ranchers have adopted intensive grazing management practices in which pastures are subdivided into smaller paddocks. This increases stocking density and reduces the quality of the resulting habitat for lesser prairie-chickens. Range managers can reduce stocking density by selectively removing cross fencing to make pasture areas bigger, shifting toward a continuous grazing system. While there is much debate on the merits of rotational and continuous grazing systems, the superiority of one system over another in terms of livestock production and ecosystem health is not widely accepted among professionals.

In rangelands that already have the diverse vegetative structure that lesser prairie-chickens require, range managers can maintain large-scale (i.e., across pastures) heterogeneity through a mix of low-to-moderate forage utilization goals between pastures. Small-scale heterogeneity (i.e., within pasture) can be maintained by implementing low stocking densities, greater pasture areas, and shorter deferment periods.

In rangelands where vegetative structure suitable for nesting is limited, or where the most important grass species for nesting are also among the most palatable, longer deferment and rest-rotation may be needed to restore or create advantageous vegetative structure. Further, periodic, year-long deferment is likely essential to maintain the integrity of grazed lands regardless of plant community composition.

The Science to Solutions report identifies specific management practices to improve lesser prairie-chicken habitat–Read them on page 4 of the report.

The bottom line? While the combined effects of prescribed fire and grazing (patch-burn grazing) offer an exceptional tool for optimizing lesser prairie-chicken habitat and livestock production, a particular assemblage of vegetative diversity-promoting grazing practices can help maintain and improve lesser prairie-chicken habitat when range conditions preclude the use of fire.

Patch-Burn Grazing Fires Up Prairie-Chicken Habitat

For lesser prairie-chickens, good habitat is a complex thing. Structural diversity is key, because a prairie-chicken’s habitat needs change with the seasons. While courtship sites (leks) tend toward short-statured vegetation, females prefer to nest in tall, dense grassland vegetation, then move their chicks to more open, forb-dominated, insect-rich habitat.

New research shows that patch-burn grazing creates the mosaic of grassland habitat structure that prairie-chickens depend on. A new Science to Solutions paper from the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) describes the research and its implications for range management.

Read the Science to Solutions story

The research team, led by Jonathan Lautenbach of Kansas State University, addressed two central questions: How does patch-burn grazing influence grassland composition and structure? How do lesser prairie-chickens use the mosaic that patch-burn grazing creates?

Lautenbach found that, throughout the year, females chose vegetation patches where the combined effects of fire and grazing produced vegetation characteristics that matched their changing seasonal needs. Specifically, females selected greater time-since-fire patches (>2-years post-fire) for nesting, 2-year post-fire patches during the spring lekking season, 1- and 2-year post-fire patches during the summer brooding period, and 1-year post-fire units during the nonbreeding season.

Researchers have also found that patch-burn grazing yields good livestock performance by stabilizing weight gain in the face of rainfall fluctuations. That means patch-burn grazing offers a successful strategy to significantly improve both lesser prairie-chicken habitat and livestock production.

Historic Forces: The Dynamic Duo of Fire and Grazing

Historically, fire and grazing acted together to shape prairie vegetation. Ignited by Plains Indians and lightning, fire killed encroaching woody plants and prompted the vigorous re-sprouting and germination of prairie vegetation. This succulent new growth of grasses and forbs attracted herds of large herbivores, which selectively grazed the recently burned area. The resulting landscape was a mosaic of burned areas scattered among grassland patches of varied ages since burning.

Most current range management in the Great Plains decouples fire and grazing. When fire is over-applied (for example, by burning entire pastures), livestock don’t have the choice between burned and unburned prairie, and a uniform grassland structure results. On the other end of
the management spectrum, fire suppression also reduces grassland structural and species diversity.

Grassland uniformity reduces drought resiliency, which decreases livestock productivity. Uniformity also negatively impacts grassland wildlife, particularly grassland birds, since some species require varying vegetation structure across the landscape to complete their life cycles.

Further, without regularly occurring fires, fire-intolerant woody plants encroach, significantly reducing both livestock forage and grassland wildlife habitat (see LPCI’s Science to Solutions #1 on redcedar encroachment and Science to Solutions #3 on mesquite encroachment).

Male lesser prairie-chicken on a lek (mating display area) within the patch-burn grazing study area. The lek site had been burned just three days earlier. Photo: Jonathan Lautenbach.

What the Science Means for Management

The Natural Resources Conservation Service-led Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative provides technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers to voluntarily improve habitat for lesser prairie-chickens. Lautenbach’s study, funded in part by LPCI, helps identify which range management strategies are most effective in benefitting bird and herd.

Patch-burned pasture within Lautenbach’s study site on the Hashknife Ranch in south-central Kansas.

Past research has shown the clear benefits of patch-burn grazing on livestock productivity. Specifically, cattle in pastures with two or more patches gained weight independent of rainfall, indicating that patch-burn grazing helps buffer climatic variation and stabilizes livestock productivity—a critically important attribute in the drought- prone southern Great Plains.

Also, research shows that, while both conventional prescribed burning and patch burning reduce wildfire fuels and redcedar encroachment, patch-burning does so while maintaining habitat for grassland-dependent wildlife.

Lautenbach’s study adds to evidence of the win-win nature of patch-burn grazing for livestock and wildlife, specifically showing that lesser prairie-chickens use the diverse patchwork to meet their needs for nesting, brood- rearing, and over-wintering.

The findings show that the scale and configuration of prescribed burns really matter. During the study, no females were observed nesting in year-of-fire patches, which lack thermal and hiding cover. Creating a mosaic of grassland patches of varied age-since-fire (rather than conventional whole-pasture burning) is a crucial part of the conservation equation.

To achieve the combined conservation strategies of removing redcedar and increasing grassland heterogeneity, Lautenbach’s research team recommends implementing prescribed fire in a patch-burn grazing system with a 4-6 year burn interval for any given patch.

The researchers note that their study was conducted in the eastern portion of the lesser prairie-chicken’s distribution. Regional differences in rainfall, soil types, and vegetation, create four different eco-regions, across the lesser prairie- chicken’s occupied distribution in the southern Great Plains. Within these ecoregions the recommended fire return interval will change, with areas receiving less rainfall having a greater fire-return interval (e.g. 7-10 years for any given patch).

Check out all of LPCI’s Science to Solutions papers on LPCI’s Resources page.

Science to Solutions: New Mapping Tool Helps Target Woody Encroachment

Lesser prairie-chickens avoid prairie habitat with just one redcedar per acre. In the southwestern part of their range, they strongly prefer sites with less than one percent mesquite cover. Range managers need to be able to detect very low densities of encroaching woody plants on the landscape  to target effective conservation efforts. The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative’s latest Science to Solutions paper describes a new mapping tool that offers that capacity and more.

Read SCIENCE TO SOLUTIONS: New Mapping Tool Helps Target Woody Encroachment

The new, high-resolution mapping tool will allow range managers to evaluate the landscape-level impacts of woody encroachment on both lesser prairie-chicken and greater sage-grouse habitat even at very low densities. This precise information helps target conservation actions and monitor results.

A team of scientists from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Colorado State University, The Nature Conservancy, University of Wyoming, University of Montana, Oregon State University, US Geological Survey, University of Minnesota, and New Mexico State University produced the mapping tool.

A  research paper on the mapping tool and its applications was published earlier this month in a special edition of Rangeland Ecology & Management, the scientific journal of the Society for Range Management, focused on the effects and management of woody encroachment as it relates to habitat for lesser prairie-chickens and greater sage-grouse.

A full-day symposium on the research showcased in the January 2017 issue of Rangeland Ecology & Management will take place on January 31, 2017, at the Society for Range Management annual conference. The symposium will be live-streamed on the Sage Grouse Initiative website (live-streaming is free and open to the public).

LPCI’s Science to Solutions summary explains the tool and its applications, particularly as it relates to lesser prairie-chicken habitat conservation.

SCIENCE TO SOLUTIONS: LPCI Conservation Practices Boost Lesser Prairie-Chicken Occupancy

Habitat conservation practices make a difference for lesser prairie-chickens. That’s the finding of a recent scientific study—the first part of a multi-year study—described in a new report from the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI).

LPCI, led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), works with partner screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-10-52-52-amorganizations and ranchers to improve habitat and address threats to the bird. Since 2010, more than 1 million acres of habitat in the southern Great Plains have been restored on working lands.

NRCS works with partners to monitor the outcomes of targeted assistance to private landowners, which helps determine if LPCI’s conservation practices are making a difference. However, accurately estimating wildlife populations be challenging with uncommon, widely dispersed species like the lesser prairie-chicken.

A recent study identified a new model for assessing lesser prairie-chicken populations, and it shows encouraging evidence that NRCS-recommended conservation practices through LPCI are working and that large blocks of intact prairie are important to prairie-chicken conservation.

Download the new Science to Solutions report.

The study assessed one year of data from the annual aerial survey of lesser prairie-chicken lek sites conducted by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and it looked at four factors that might impact site occupancy—patch size of native vegetation, percent of land cover managed with prescribed grazing; percent of land cover enrolled in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP); and density of primary roads. The research team intends to continue with a multi-year study that assesses additional variables.

Lesser prairie-chickens face many threats, including habitat loss and fragmentation from row-crop agriculture, fire suppression, unmanaged grazing, development, and drought. The species currently occupies just 16 percent of its historic range.


Map of current and historical range of the lesser prairie-chicken, showing sites surveyed during the 2013 range-wide aerial survey. The data from this survey was repurposed to assess LEPC habitat occupancy. (Click on map for larger view).

But in western Kansas, lesser prairie-chickens have reoccupied portions of their historical range and have even moved into areas outside that historical range. The range expansion coincides with former croplands enrolled and maintained as grasslands through CRP, as well as native grasslands managed using LPCI prescribed grazing practices.

A team of researchers tested whether there was a quantifiable link between land managed with prescribed grazing or enrolled in CRP and the likelihood of prairie-chickens occupying a landscape. Their results indicate that these habitat conservation efforts are working.

After developing an expanded model for assessing lesser prairie-chicken populations, the team found that occupancy increases as prairie patch-size increases, as well as in landscapes with ongoing conservation practices. Specifically, the results indicate that when lands are using prescribed grazing or enrolled in CRP, the likelihood of lesser prairie-chickens occupying that habitat increases significantly.

The report’s management recommendations include:

  • Enrolling acreage within the lesser prairie-chicken active range in prescribed grazing or CRP.
  • Maintaining large blocks of native prairie across the range through sustainable ranching.
  • Identifying potential landscapes with willing landowners to develop conservation easements, particularly if combined with prescribed grazing and other proven habitat conservation practices.
  • Implementing prescribed grazing on dispersed patches throughout large blocks of rangeland.
  • Cultivating diverse stands of CRP-enrolled grasslands that serve as connective tissue to larger patches of native prairie.
  • Retaining CRP acreage as grasslands after contract expiration.
Lesser prairie-chickens benefit from LPCI prescribed grazing. The study showed strong positive relationship between percent prescribed grazing and probability of occupancy.

Lesser prairie-chickens benefit from LPCI prescribed grazing. The study showed strong positive relationship between percent prescribed grazing and probability of occupancy.

NRCS outlined its three-year plan for lesser prairie-chicken conservation in its Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative FY16-18 Conservation Strategy report, which encourages adoption of many of the above practices—such as prescribed grazing, using easements to protect key habitat corridors, and providing assistance to convert expiring CRP lands to grazing—on 500,000 additional acres.

Learn more about these findings by downloading the new Science to Solutions report. This report is part of the Science to Solutions series offered through NRCS, LPCI and the Sage Grouse Initiative.



SCIENCE TO SOLUTIONS: Redcedar Removal Restores Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitat

The science is in! A new study by researchers from Kansas State University and US Geological Survey resoundingly confirms that redcedar encroachment on the Southern Great Plains greatly impacts lesser prairie-chickens.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 9.56.18 AMRead our Science to Solutions report about the study and the LPCI management recommendations the study informs.

Using GPS transmitters, researchers tracked the movements of 58 female lesser prairie-chickens  for two years on 35,000 acres of private land in south-central Kansas. They measured the response of the prairie-chickens to trees 3 feet or taller, 80% of which were eastern redcedars. Three key findings emerged:

  • Female lesser prairie-chickens did not nest in grasslands with more than 1 tree per acre.
  • They avoided trees by about 1000 feet on average when selecting habitat and nest sites.
  • They stopped using grasslands altogether when tree density reached 3 trees/acre.

LEPCs in the study area were forty times more likely to use habitats with tree densities of 0 trees/acre than habitats with 2 trees/acre. The findings make it clear that removing redcedar, even when present at very low densities, is critical to LEPC conservation.

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) uses science to develop management practices that will most efficiently and effectively improve habitat for lesser prairie-chickens, delivering the greatest return on investment.

In response to this latest study, LPCI has released its first Science to Solutions paper, “Redcedar Removal Restores LEPC Habitat,” identifying conservation practices aligned with these scientific findings. The recommendations center on three key strategies:

  • Focus on stands with low-density redcedar encroachment, giving priority to sites within LEPC focal areas and connectivity zones, and sites already occupied by LEPC or adjacent to occupied sites.
  • Use mechanical cutting or prescribed fire to remove all redcedar trees on treated acres.
  • Use prescribed fire to maintain or restore open grasslands. Regular use of prescribed fire is a cost-effective way to prevent woody encroachment on grasslands.

Read the full Science to Solutions paper for details!