An ecological conundrum: just what makes good Lesser Prairie-Chicken habitat?

Olson, Steven, speaker
Riley, Terry, moderator
International Wildlife Ranching Symposium, producer
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The Lesser Prairie-Chicken is native to the prairie shrubland ecosystems of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. Dramatic population declines, combined with existing and perceived future threats, were the impetus for listing the chicken as 'Threatened' under the Endangered Species Act. On the Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands the decline has been evident since the mid-1990s, but has been particularly severe over the past decade. Between 2012 and 2013, prairie-chicken numbers fell 50 percent across the species range. These concerns led to the development of the Cimarron-Comanche National Grasslands Lesser Prairie-Chicken Management Plan. As we developed our plan, it became evident that defining ‘quality' prairie-chicken habitat was not a simple task. The prairie-chicken evolved in an area of sand prairie with tall grasses accounting for up to 90 percent of the vegetation, thus providing ample lekking, nesting, and brood rearing habitat for the birds. That habitat was forever altered by European settlement and disturbance of native prairie. Despite broad changes in the vegetation, the sand prairie still appears to be capable of producing more tall grasses and fewer shrubs. Our strategy includes a thorough inventory of existing conditions, an intense monitoring plan, and an experimental approach to answer the question: 'Just what makes good Lesser Prairie-Chicken habitat?' The answer to that question on the national grasslands will be the same for private lands in the vicinity, leading to cooperative management of Lesser Prairie-Chicken among land owners across the species range.
Moderator: Terry Riley.
Presented at the 8th international congress for wildlife and livelihoods on private and communal lands: livestock, tourism, and spirit, that was held on September 7-12, 2014 in Estes Park, Colorado.
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Wildlife management -- Congresses
Range management -- Congresses
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