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Assessment of Lesser Prairie-Chicken Response to Translocation

Liam Berigan, M.S. Student
Carly Aulicky, Ph.D. Student

Project Supervisor:
Dr. David Haukos

Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism

Kansas State University

Western Kansas

December 2020

Status: Began Summer 2017

Lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus)


Assess fidelity of release area for translocated lesser prairie-chickens.

Measure annual and seasonal survival of translocated lesser prairie-chickens.

Quantify movements, space use, and home range of translocated lesser prairiechickens.

Locate and describe lek establishment and use by translocated lesser prairieehickens.

Compare results to similar data previously collected from established populations

Progress and Results:
For much of the past 50 years, the Sand Sagebrush Prairie Ecoregion of southwestern Kansas and southeastem Colorado supported the greatest density of lesser prairie chickens among the range-wide ecoregions in -15,975 km2 of potential habitat (Figure 1, A and B; Haukos et al. 2016). Indeed, Jenson et al. (2004) estimated >86,000 birds in the ecoregion during the 1970s. However, during the past decade, lesser prairie-chickens in the ecoregion have been subjected to extreme environmental events that have greatly reduced the population size (e.g., extensive, prolonged drought; blizzard/ice storms; Figure 1, A and B). Indeed, the estimated population size in 2014 was 513 (95% CI432- 633) (McDonald et al. 2016). Although the estimated population increased to 1,479 in 2016, this still represents a > 98% decline since the 1970s and 85% below the population objective of 10,000 for the ecoregion.

This ecoregion is unique within the lesser prairie-chicken range because of the presence of public lands in the form of National Grasslands administered by the U.S. Forest Service (Elmore and Dahlgren 2016). The Cimarron (Morton and Stevens counties, Kansas; nearly 44,000 ha) and Comanche (Baca, Otero, and Las Animas counties, Colorado; nearly 180,000 ha) National Grasslands comprise approximately 224,000 ha of area in the ecoregion. This area represents the bulk of public land in the lesser prairie-chicken range (Elmore and Dahlgren 2016). Although large areas of the National Grasslands are managed for lesser prairie-chickens and habitat conditions have greatly improved during 2015 and 2016, the number of extant birds on the National Grasslands was likely <10 during fall 2016. Because of favorable environmental conditions during 2015-2016, habitat quality, a critical aspect of lesser prairie-chicken population demography, has greatly improved.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and U.S. Forest Service are currently translocating lesser prairie-chickens from the Short-Grass Prairie/CRP Ecoregion in northwest Kansas to a >125,000 ha release area in southwestern Kansas and southeastem Colorado that includes areas of sand sagebrush prairie in the Comanche and Cimarron National Grasslands (-45,000 ha) and private lands with some areas of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land. Although previous efforts to translocate lesser prairie-chickens have had mixed results (Rodgers 2016), the proposed translocation will consist of fall movement of males combined with spring movement of males and females over four years, which began in fall 2016.

The primary goals of that project are to (1) secure the long-term persistence and distribution of lesser prairie-chickens within the Sand Sagebrush Ecoregion by restoring core populations and (2) assess the feasibility of translocating lesser prairie-chickens as a tool to restore population abundance and habitat occupancy. Specific objectives include (1) supplementation of existing lesser prairie-chicken population in Baca County, Colorado, and Morton County, Kansas, and (2) quantify site fidelity and survival of translocated lesser prairie-chickens.

Professional Presentations: