WAFWA to begin aerial surveys of lesser prairie-chicken habitat

Aerial surveys of lesser prairie-chickens will begin March 17 and run through mid-May in five states containing habitat the bird needs to thrive. The surveys are conducted annually by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) to assess population trends and how the bird is responding to management strategies identified in the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan. 

WAFWA’s annual aerial survey counts lesser prairie-chickens on leks (mating display sites) across the 5-state range.

The range-wide plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and the state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. It was developed to ensure conservation of the lesser prairie-chicken by providing a mechanism for voluntary participation of landowners and industry. Funding for WAFWA’s conservation efforts comes largely from voluntary mitigation payments by industry partners that are enrolled in the plan. The range-wide plan allows agriculture producers and industry to continue operations while reducing impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat.

Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA’s grassland coordinator, explains the intent of the aerial survey. “Working with the wildlife agencies of each of these five states, we’ve established a consistent methodology to conduct these aerial surveys. This allows us to get the most accurate information possible so we can see how various management strategies for the bird are working on the ground.”

The surveys will be conducted by helicopter in locations chosen randomly within lesser prairie-chicken range. In previous years, some of the fly paths prompted calls, which is why WAFWA is getting the word out about the start of aerial survey work.

Results from this year’s surveys will be available on July 1. In the five years since WAFWA initiated the surveys in 2012, estimated lesser prairie-chicken numbers have fluctuated between 20,300 and 38,700. Last year’s range-wide population was estimated at 25,700.

The population is still low compared to historical numbers, and the lesser prairie-chicken and its habitat still face many threats. WAFWA, a partner in the Natural Resources Conservation Service-led Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI), is committed to continued successful implementation of the range-wide plan and the long-term recovery of this iconic grassland bird.

For more information about the lesser prairie-chicken and the conservation work being done to support it, see the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Plan.

Since 1922, WAFWA has advanced conservation in western North America. Representing 23 western states and Canadian provinces, WAFWA’s reach encompasses more than forty percent of North America, including two-thirds of the United States.

WAFWA works with LPCI to enhance the field staff team that works one-on-one with landowners to recommend and provide assistance in carrying out conservation practices to benefit both lesser prairie-chickens and agricultural producers.