The lesser prairie-chicken is a Tier 1 species of greatest conservation need in our State Wildlife Action Plan. Unfortunately, populations have declined significantly in Colorado, largely due to long-term habitat loss and periods of extensive drought in the southeastern part of the state. However, the moisture conditions have improved over the past several years and we have implemented many habitat projects to benefit lesser prairie-chicken. Our partnerships with private landowners are particularly important in this effort, and local support is integral to our success.
Why Are Lesser Prairie-chickens Important?
The lesser prairie-chicken is an umbrella species, meaning that conservation efforts to protect them also protect their habitat and the other species that rely on it. Our work on grasslands is landscape-level and much needed. Grasslands have been in decline for decades, suffering degradation from factors like agriculture and the dust bowl. These ecosystems support species like burrowing owls, ferruginous hawks, swift foxes, and other grassland birds such as the lark bunting.
What Are The Associated Challenges?
What Is CPW Doing?
The lesser prairie-chicken population in southeast Colorado had declined severely from 2007-2015. In an effort to recover the population, we worked collaboratively with the state of Kansas and initiated a translocation project in the fall of 2016. We concluded the capture operations in the spring of 2019 and have released a total of 411 lesser prairie-chickens on the Comanche National Grasslands in southeast Colorado and the Cimarron National Grasslands in southwest Kansas. We are now in the process of monitoring the released birds and hope that this effort will lead to the long-term persistence of lesser prairie-chickens in Colorado.
CPW also has a Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat Improvement Program that provides funding to landowners wanting to voluntarily improve habitat conditions on their ground. Example projects include seeding preferred lesser prairie-chicken grasses and forbs in grass re-establishment plantings and deferred grazing near leks in order to increase cover for nesting birds. Our funding is prioritized by proximity to active leks.
We also continue to work with the
Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and our four partner states - Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico – to implement the
Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan.