Private landowners have voluntarily restored more than 3.5 million acres of habitat to help seven at-risk species, such as the prairie chicken and bog turtle. And their stories will be highlighted this fall by “This American Land,” a public television series.
The new episode was released today (Oct. 28) and available on public TV stations across the United States.
The segment, called “Prairie Chickens and Bog Turtles,” will feature fifth-generation Kansas rancher Roy Beeley who has worked to help the lesser prairie chicken, an iconic bird of the southern Great Plains. Loss of habitat has caused the species to be proposed as a threatened species for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
By using conservation practices offered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, landowners like Beeley are able to enhance habitat for these animals while benefiting their own operation.
Beeley implemented a grazing plan that led to removal of Eastern red cedar trees from his rangeland. The Eastern red cedar tree is a habitat that the chicken won’t use and it provides predators an extra advantage.
When the cedars are removed, it returns the prairie to its historic condition, improving habitat for the lesser prairie chicken and increasing available acres of grass for cattle to graze.
Roy and hundreds of other producers have helped improve more than 920,000 acres of lesser prairie chicken habitat since 2010.
Working Lands for Wildlife helps shift endangered species conservation from regulatory to incentive based voluntary actions. This new paradigm has evolved from the strong partnership between NRCS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and helps create habitat for other species, including the gopher tortoise, Southwest willow flycatcher, golden-winged warbler, greater and Gunnison sage grouse, New England cottontail and bog turtle.
Farmers and ranchers who voluntarily maintain conservation practices that benefit these seven species may receive regulatory predictability for up to 30 years.
The episode also features the bog turtle, one of America’s smallest and rarest turtles. The bog turtle is often an indicator of water quality and healthy wetlands.
With more than 90 percent of the bog turtles’ habitat located on private lands in the Northeast, landowners are essential for their survival.
“These turtles are just one piece of the ecosystem puzzle, but it’s important to keep all those pieces together because we don’t know what will happen if one or more of those pieces disappear,” said Holly Niederriter, non-game wildlife biologist for Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife.