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.
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.