Conservation Plan Helps Texas Rancher Adapt

Lesser Prairie-Chicken

Clay Cooper signed the first Lesser Prairie-Chicken conservation plan in Texas, through the Natural Resources Conservation Service “Working Lands for Wildlife” partnership — an agreement with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By participating in the grassland management program, he benefits from technical and monetary assistance from NRCS, and, should a bird be accidentally killed, he won’t be held liable for its loss. Awful drought in 2011-2012, plus a wildfire that destroyed 75-80 percent of his grass, caused Cooper to have to disperse a large part of his herd. He discusses both changes to his environment.

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Grazing Management for Lesser Prairie-Chicken

Healthy rangelands help the long-term sustainability of the landowner and the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. Practices that bolster the bird’s habitat are also good for ranching, and can lead to improved rangeland health. NRCS provides technical and cost-assistance for grazing management programs under the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative.

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NRCS Program Helps Provide Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitat

Invasives

The lack of fire on the Great Plains has permitted indigenous and foreign woody plants to encroach on prairie grasslands. These invasives dominate ecosystems by disrupting natural vegetation, changing watersheds and disturbing native wildlife, like the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. A suite of practices under the NRCS Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative is assisting range managers with technical assistance and funding to remove or control those invasives while positively impacting the bird’s habitat.

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Initiative Helps New Mexico Rancher Manage Rangeland

Lesser Prairie-Chicken

Kyle Dillard, a Milnesand rancher is taking advantage of an NRCS program. He’s a cow/calf man in eastern New Mexico, right in the middle of a large Lesser Prairie-Chicken population. Dillard discusses how the NRCS Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative helps him manage his rangeland and provide better habitat for the bird.

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NRCS Program Helps Rancher Remove Invasive Shrubs

Invasive removal

The lack of fire as a management tool on the Great Plains has permitted indigenous and foreign woody plants to encroach on prairie grasslands, reducing Lesser Prairie-Chicken habitat. Through the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, NRCS can help producers and range managers remove woody invasive species — through burning, cutting and spraying. We tell one Oklahoma Panhandle rancher’s experience participating in the NRCS initiative.

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Oklahoma Ranchers Benefit from Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative

Lesser Prairie-Chicken

We visit a couple ranchers in the Oklahoma panhandle who are participating in the NRCS Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative. Jordan Shearer, a Slapout rancher, talks about how participation in the Initiative has given him technical expertise on range management and helped improve his grassland, even following exceptional drought in 2010-2012. Loren Sizelove ranches near Shearer, and he’s the Beaver County Extension Agent. The drought took its toll on Sizelove’s herd, and he had to disperse 60 percent of his herd. His participation in the Initiative has resulted in payments for deferring grazing, and deferring calving.

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Weaver Ranch Restores Habitat

Jim Weaver

The sprawling Weaver Ranch near Causey, New Mexico, is located in important Lesser Prairie-Chicken habitat. Ranch manager Willard Heck talks about removing 400-500 acres of mesquite that had encroached onto prairie land, fragmenting the bird’s habitat. A three-year drought has impeded the bird from thriving, but Heck thinks the chicken’s population is increasing on the ranch.

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New Mexico Reclamation Project

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has partnered with hundreds of groups to restore and link back together the Lesser Prairie-Chicken’s eastern New Mexico habitat. With funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, crews are removing petroleum welljack pads and service roads, reseeding with native grasses, and removing other vertical objects like mesquite, trees and old windmills in effort to restore a habitat more friendly to the needs of the bird.

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Lesser Prairie-Chicken’s Aversion to Vertical Structures

Scientists researching the population declines of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken say the bird’s habitat has been damaged by vertical structures and human activity like road-building and oil and gas mining. Vertical structures include mesquite and other woody invasives, which the bird is averse to nesting near. Those features lead to habitat fragmentation. The bird is reluctant to cross roads and transmission lines. It tries to stay away from mesquite and trees. As a result, it self-limits habitat. Scientists and land managers discuss what’s been learned.

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Managed Grazing During Times of Drought

Much of the High Plains region is under extreme or exceptional drought. Learn how enrolling grassland in the NRCS Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative helps landowners take advantage of technical advice for deploying managed-grazing regimes to protect rangeland, both for cattle-grazing and Lesser Prairie-Chicken habitat. Good rangeland management during drought will enable the landscape to recover faster once “Mother Nature turns the spigot on again.”

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