The lesser prairie chicken is a ground-dwelling grouse, known for its elaborate mating dances, and found only in the United States. While once abundant throughout the southern Great Plains, habitat loss has limited it to select portions of New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. The lesser prairie chicken’s habitat overlaps with farming and ranching operations as well as oil, gas and wind energy development.
The lesser prairie chicken is currently listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, which presents a challenge and an opportunity for industry to work with landowners to recover this rare species and at the same time advance responsible energy development and agricultural operations.
The Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat Exchange will provide new incentives for industry to minimize and mitigate its impacts, and for private landowners to improve and expand habitat for the prairie chicken and other wildlife that depend on healthy prairie land.
Threats to the lesser prairie chicken
Populations of lesser prairie chickens have been in steady decline due primarily to habitat loss. In addition, vertical structures such as wind turbines and power lines are perceived as a threat to the species because they provide potential roosting sites for predatory birds. Collisions with fences are also a threat.
Landowners as part of the solution
By participating in the Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat Exchange, farmers, ranchers and other landowners can voluntarily create, maintain and improve habitat vital to the survival of the lesser prairie chicken. Conservation activities include:
- Managed grazing
- Prescribed fire
- Converting marginal lands back to native grass
- Agreeing to leave expiring Conservation Reserve Program acres in and improving habitat quality
- Marking fences and removing tall structures
Scientific experts using the best available science will assign a value to these activities, which landowners can then sell in the form of a credit to industry seeking to offset the impact of their projects on protected wildlife and habitat. Landowners benefit from a new revenue stream and receive regulatory assurances that additional conservation actions will not be required of them, even if the species is listed as threatened or endangered.
Industry as part of the solution
From oil wells to wind farms, energy and other companies are required by law to offset the impacts of their projects. But the process varies by case and can lead to years-long litigation that delays development.
In the Habitat Exchange, industry benefits from a predictable value for credits that can be purchased to offset the impacts of development, and a standard set of rules and regulatory assurances, even if a species is listed, to ensure that projects move forward.
With an energy boom in the West, the Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat Exchange will provide a new mechanism for oil, gas, wind and other development to expand, while also working to recover the lesser prairie chicken and other wildlife that depend on healthy prairie land.
To learn more about the Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat Exchange, please explore our program documents: