Lesser Prairie-chicken closeup
Eric Beck
Closeup of Lesser Prairie-chicken

Lesser Prairie-Chicken Status Summary

Background

Lesser Prairie-Chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus, LEPC), a gallinaceous bird, require large unfragmented mixed sand sagebrush (Artemesia filifolia) or shinnery oak (Quercus havardii) grasslands to meet demands of all life history stages. LEPC are polygynous, exhibit a lek mating system, have a short life span (5 year max) and high annual mortality rate (65%).

Historical accounts suggest LEPC were located in southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, western Oklahoma, eastern New Mexico, and the Texas Pandhandle. Large population declines occurred since 1800s, primarily due to droughts, conversion of rangeland to cropland, overgrazing by livestock, and chemical control on rangelands.

NEW INFORMATION

Fact Sheet on Endangered Species Act Listing Process - developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 

CURRENT STATUS

Current range occupied by LEPC is only 14% of that occupied before European settlement and located almost entirely on privately owned land (95% private, 4% federal, 1% State trust land in NM). Recent estimates suggest there are approximately 35,000 birds remaining, many of which are in isolated populations are vulnerable to stochastic environmental conditions. Almost one third (10,000) of LEPC are located on land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)*.

In 1995, with populations down 78% since 1963, LEPC were petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) determined in 1998 that listing LEPC was warranted but precluded by other higher priority actions and added it to the candidate species list with a listing priority number (LPN) of 8, on a scale of 1 - 12 based on the magnitude and immediacy of threats. In 2008, due to unregulated wind development and expiration of CRP acreage, the Service increased the LPN from 8 to 2. The Southwest Region (Region 2) is the Service's lead region. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has LEPC listed as "vulnerable" because of its long and rapid population decline.

* CRP pays landowners for acreage taken out of production, some of which has reverted back to undisturbed native habitats important to LEPC.

 On September 1, 2010 Wild Earth Guardians filed a lawsuit in Denver federal court challenging the Interior Department's 2009 warranted but precluded listing decision.

Major Threats: (habitat loss and degradation, small population sizes)

  • Habitat fragmentation
  • Conversion to cultivated agricultural lands
  • Intensive livestock grazing
  • Wind energy and bio-fuel development
  • Transmission lines
  • Oil and gas development
  • Fire suppression
  • Tall structures in prairie (man-made and natural, reduce reproductive success 1)
  • Fence collisions - high mortalities in Oklahoma (39.5%) & New Mexico (26.5%)
  • 80% of CRP acres in the LEPC range are due to expire by 9/30/13 1
  • Recreational hunting permitted in Kansas2. Texas closed hunting in Fall 2009.
  • Hybridization with Greater prairie-chickens in Kansas

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, overall magnitude of threats is high. 

State and Regional Actions:

  • Reintroduction efforts in Texas and Colorado failed 2,3
  • Male attendance at leks continues to be monitored 3
  • Oklahoma and Texas - miles of unnecessary fence have been removed 4
  • The following Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) programs provide financial
  • or technical assistance to develop habitat on private lands in a manner that benefits LEPC:
  • CRP, Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQUIP), Partners for Fish & Wildlife
  • Program (PFW), Waterways for Wildlife, Wildlife at Work, Wildlife Habitat Incentives
  • Program (WHIP).
  • In 2008, Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) developed a Lesser
  • prairie-chicken conservation initiative strategy. The overseeing technical group, Lesser
  • Prairie-Chicken Interstate Working Group, is made up of 5 cooperating states where LEPC
  • remain. They are tasked with determining and monitoring the current status of the species
  • and their habitats, identifying and implementing management practices to conserve
  • habitats and the species, providing technical assistance that target LEPC (i.e seed
  • mixtures for CRP lands), and identification and prioritization of research needs. Their pilot
  • project is to develop a geospatial planning tool for identifying and prioritizing LEPC habitat.
  • See attached spreadsheet for additional specific state-by-state details - information
  • compiled by the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Advisory Committee to the Interagency Task
  • Force for Economic Growth and Endangered Species (Texas).

Specific References:

1. Pitman et al. (2005). 2. Wolfe et al. (2007). 3. Hagen (2005) 4. Rogers (1997)

General References:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, BirdLife International, Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Lesser Prairie-Chicken Species Profile - for identification, natural history, conservation status and additional references

Lesser Prairie-Chicken Current and Historic Range Map

Audubon New Mexico article on volunteers working hard for prairie-chickens

Dorothy Wood Foundation Lesser Prairie-Chicken Web Site

Strategic Habitat Conservation: Targeting Acres for Lesser Prairie-Chicken Programs

USFWS: Conservation measures for private landowners 

USFWS: Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances for Non-Federal Property Owners

USFWS: Conservation Practices for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken and Sand Dune Lizard Candidate Conservation Agreement and Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances in New Mexico

TNC Oklahoma Natural Resources: Wind, Wildlife, Untilled Landscapes and Protected Areas Map

Playa Lakes Joint Venture Newsletters - Playa Post 

Map of Proposed Renewable Energy Corridors in New Mexico

Gone With the Wind? Lesser Prairie-Chickens are imperiled in the quest for renewable energy (Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine, October 2009)