November 4, 2016
A new report from the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative finds that habitat conservation makes a difference for the bird.
The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), works with partner organizations and ranchers to improve habitat and address threats to the bird. Since 2010, more than 1 million acres of habitat have been restored on working lands.
The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), works with partner organizations and ranchers to improve habitat and address threats to the bird. (Photo: twildlife/Thinkstock)
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 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% of its historic range.
A team of researchers tested whether there was a quantifiable link between land where ranchers are implementing LPCI prescribed grazing plans or have enrolled their land 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 ranchers are using prescribed grazing or enrolling land 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.
Source: USDA blog
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