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Lesser Prairie-Chicken Response to USDA Conservation Practices in Kansas and Colorado

Beth Ross, postdoctoral research associate

Project Supervisors:
Dr. David Haukos


Dr. Christian Hagen
Jim Pitman
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism

Throughout Kansas and eastern Colorado

June 2015

Status: Initiation June 2013

Lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus)

Quantify the relative importance of changes in CRP and climate on LEPC abundance and demographic parameters.

Quantify the spatial extent, juxtaposition, and habitat composition/structure of CRP grasslands and native prairie habitat that yield high likelihood of LEPC occurrence.

Link abundance of the "best" landscapes to fitness parameters for populations.

Examine abundance and population demographics to quantify the relative values of various management strategies for CRP and other USDA conservation programs.

Progress and Results:
Significant numbers of lesser prairie-chickens of Kansas and Colorado are associated with former croplands that have been enrolled in a U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs/practices, principally the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). At a broad-scale CRP has reduced habitat fragmentation and assisted in connecting extant and expanding populations. Additionally, conservation practices with CRP fields that may be affecting these populations include vegetation species composition, development of supplemental water areas, mid-term management practices, and emergency haying/grazing declarations. Use of CRP may also be related to juxtaposition of CRP, cropland, and other land uses. In addition, the overall population response by lesser prairie-chickens to conservation programs needs to be assessed in regard to demography of the population to model future population trends. Concurrent with CRP and land use practices, more information is needed on the response of lesser prairie-chickens to changes in climate. The Great Plains region is predicted to experience increasing drought conditions, which could negatively affect lesser prairie-chickens in the future. A better understanding of the interaction between land use and climate change on lesser prairie-chicken population demographics is important for future management practices. Our results thus far indicate that extreme values of Palmer Drought Severity Index (both low and high, or dry and wet conditions) during the spring breeding season were the best predictors of changes in lesser prairie-chicken abundance, though neither had a significant effect on male lesser prairie-chicken abundance on leks. Abundance on leks was highest during the mid-1980s, followed by low population abundance in the 1990s. The population has remained relatively stable since the late 1990s. Future research will incorporate land use variables to determine how vital rates (nest success, survival relative to other habitat types) differ by landscape type. Interactions between land use type and with climate change will be quantified, as well as interactions with climate and a variety of landscape metrics (e.g., edge, patch size, patch configuration). Population demography will be linked to a variety of USDA conservation practices. The influence of CRP on LEPC populations will be determined by scaling results up to landscape levels.

Ross, B.E., D. Haukos, C. Hagen, and J. Pitman. 2014. Changes of Lesser Prairie-Chicken Abundance in Kansas. Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, Kansas City, MO.

Ross, B.E., D. Haukos, C. Hagen, and J. Pitman. 2014. Changes of Lesser Prairie-Chicken Abundance in Kansas. Kansas Natural Resources Conference, Wichita, KS.

Ross, B., D. Haukos, C. Hagen, and J. Pitman. 2014. The relative influence of drought and habitat on lesser prairie-chickens. Society for Conservation Biology, Missoula, Montana.

Ross, B., D. Haukos, C. Hagen, and J. Pitman. 2014. Combining multiple data sources to determine climate and land-use impacts on lesser prairie-chickens. Annual Meeting of The Wildlife Society, Pittsburgh, PA.