Nationwide Lesser Prairie Chicken Population Estimated at 37,000
The lesser prairie chicken is an iconic grassland grouse species native to parts of the southern plains – Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologists are working to conserve habitat for the species in Kansas, New Mexico and Texas. Through a multi-state collaborative effort, the first statistically-valid, range-wide population estimate for the lesser prairie chicken has been produced, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ (WAFWA) Grassland Initiative. The range- wide lesser prairie chicken population is estimated at 37,170 individuals.
While the lesser prairie chicken population estimate may appear low, biologists are encouraged by what they found. The surveys this spring detected several previously unknown leks, despite severe drought conditions across the region last year. They also discovered leks in Kansas beyond what was thought to be the northern limit of the historic range of the species. Lesser prairie chicken numbers have been largely increasing in Kansas for the last 15 years, while populations have declined in parts of the southern portion of the range. Biologists believe this expansion may represent a northward shift in the population of the species caused by climatic conditions associated with changing precipitation patterns.
“Historically, we saw habitat conditions like we are observing now in the 1930s, and we thought the species went extinct,” said Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA Grassland Coordinator. “However, with habitat conservation programs being implemented through various Farm Bill programs and Candidate Conservation Agreements under the Endangered Species Act, we are seeing lesser prairie chickens maintaining themselves and even expanding into new areas in some parts of their range. This definitely boosts our confidence in coming up with a plan to maintain this species,” concludes Van Pelt.
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