Cattle ranchers in the Texas Panhandle are interested in raising more than just cattle and grass. They also want to raise chickens—lesser prairie-chickens, to be exact!
The lesser prairie-chicken is a ground-nesting bird native to the mixed-grass prairies of the Texas panhandle, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Lesser prairie-chickens are known for the unique mating dance performed by the colorful males.
Habitat fragmentation, drought and land-use changes have contributed to the decline of the population of this bird to the point that it is now being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
If the lesser prairie-chicken is listed as a threatened or endangered species, regulations could affect farm and ranch operations across the five states where it is found, since more than 95 percent of lesser prairie-chicken habitat is found on private lands. Complying with regulations can be expensive and can cause difficulties for farmers and ranchers in maintaining their operations.
So now agricultural producers are teaming up with conservationists to voluntarily help the lesser prairie-chicken. Working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and its partners through the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative, farmers and ranchers are restoring and protecting habitat for the sensitive and reclusive bird.
The best part about this partnership is that all of the conservation practices that benefit the lesser prairie-chicken and other wildlife also contribute to healthy grazing lands.
Range management practices that help maintain habitat that fits the lesser prairie-chicken’s requirements include planting native species that provide enough cover for the prairie-chicken to nest and rear its young, prescribed burning, and grazing cattle in rotation.
NRCS’ Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative partners include local soil and water conservation districts, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Dorothy Marcille Wood Foundation.
NRCS recently gave a two-day training in the Texas Panhandle and South Plains region to provide information to its employees and partners in the area about the program’s specifics. This is just one in a series of trainings being given throughout the year across the area covered by the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative.
Over 75 people attended the training, which was designed to help them explain the initiative to landowners eligible to receive technical and financial assistance from NRCS to create and restore lesser prairie-chicken habitat.
Check out more conservation stories on the USDA blog