Four distinct prairie habitat types occur throughout the lesser prairie-chicken’s range.
Shinnery Oak Prairie Region
Located in eastern New Mexico-southwest Texas Panhandle, this region covers approximately 1,046,400 acres of the lesser prairie-chicken’s current range. Shinnery oak (Quercus havardii) is a low-growing (1–2’ high) species of oak that grows in deep sand, with an extensive underground stem and root system that allows it to withstand periodic fire and drought. Many grasses and forbs (broad-leafed herbaceous plants) are part of the shinnery oak prairie, including sand bluestem, little bluestem, Indiangrass, switchgrass, buffalograss, sand dropseed, and sand sagebrush. In addition to lesser prairie-chickens, this habitat supports many other wildlife species. Black-tailed jackrabbits, collared peccaries, northern bobwhites, white-tailed deer, pronghorn, desert cottontails, eastern cottontails, wild turkeys, scaled quail, southern plains woodrats, western box turtles, some 25 snake species, and 10 lizard species live in the shinnery oak vegetative community, to name just a few.
Sand Sagebrush Prairie Region
Located in southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, and the western Oklahoma Panhandle, this region includes an estimated 1,583,360 acres of the lesser prairie-chicken’s current range. Here, sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia) is a dominant part of the plant community, along with such grasses as sand bluestem, grama grasses, sand reedgrass, little bluestem, and sand dropseed, as well as many forbs (broad-leafed, non-woody plants—wildflowers and “weeds”). Like shinnery oak, sand sagebrush tolerates fire, sprouting vigorously after burning. Resident wildlife species include kangaroo rat, plains pocket mouse, grasshopper mouse, western rattlesnake, western hognose snake, lesser prairie-chicken, Cassin’s sparrow, and ornate box turtle, among many others.
Mixed Grass Prairie Region
Located in the northeast Texas panhandle, western Oklahoma, and south-central Kansas, this vegetative community covers some 2,576,000 acres of the lesser prairie-chicken’s current range. Bordered by tallgrass prairie to the east and shortgrass prairie to the west, this community comprises a mix of tallgrasses (primarily big bluestem and Indiangrass) mid grasses (primarily little bluestem, western wheatgrass, sideoats grama, and Junegrass) and short grasses (primarily blue grama and buffalograss). Species diversity is moderate to high in the mixed grass prairie, with many brightly flowered forb species, including fringed sage, prairie coneflower, scarlet globe mallow, scarlet gaura, and prairie sunflower.
Short Grass / CRP Mosaic
Located in northwestern Kansas, this vegetation type covers some 1,872,640 acres of the lesser prairie-chicken’s range. As its name implies, this habitat includes both native shortgrass prairie habitat and grasslands created through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which offers financial and technical support to agricultural producers who take marginal cropland out of production and plant it back into grassland. Through CRP grassland restoration, lesser prairie-chickens have returned to parts of their historical range, as well as to new areas they were not known to previously inhabit. CRP grasslands increase the connectivity of prairie habitats, which helps lesser prairie-chicken populations respond to drought and other stressors.