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The Lesser Prairie Chicken: Rebuilding their Home on the Range

A comeback story with a surprisingly large cast!

By: | October 26, 2015 11:53 am

With a chest-puffing mating dance and a call similar to Woody the Woodpecker’s laugh, you’d think the Lesser Prairie Chicken would be the kind of bird to be right at home most anywhere.

Yet their habitat occupies a unique region. So special in fact, the bird was featured in an episode of the revised TV series Dallas titled Playing Chicken, which aired on March 10, 2014. Bobby Ewing reminds John Ross Ewing that drilling for oil on Southfork would threaten the bird’s natural habitat.

As natural habitats go, the Lessor Prairie Chicken had a big foot print, much of it in the heart of re-surging oil and gas fields. This member of the grouse family inhabits much of the Texas panhandle, western Oklahoma, Kansas, and parts of New Mexico and Colorado.

Encroaching Interests and a Lack of Water

Oil and gas development, wind farms, roads, electrical transmission lines, fences and other development have threatened Lesser Prairie Chickens’ last slivers of existing habitat. Add to that, a drought on the southern plains which drove their population from around 35,000 to 17,616 between 2012 and 2013. All this motivated the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list them as endangered.

“This is an incredibly difficult creature to save,” says Audubon Texas Executive Director Brian Trusty. “They are just really fickle.”

A Truly Unique, United Effort

In an innovative and unprecedented approach to wildlife conservation, The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) in partnership with the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas in 2012 created a document that outlined the needs of this unique prairie bird. “The Lesser Prairie Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan,” brings together different voluntary conservation programs in the high plains area into a common approach to provide for both minimization and mitigation of impacts and conservation of Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat.

The only plan of its kind endorsed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this initiative is a progressive partnership between the five range states and their oil, gas, wind, electricity and telecommunications companies, as well as well as private landowners including farmers and ranchers.

The mitigation requirements such as time restrictions of operations and on-site noise levels have become standard policy at all Xcel Energy facilities and new projects in the affected areas.

A Real Comeback: 25% Increase Since 2014

While the Lesser Prairie Chicken occupies just 16 percent of its historic range, it has seen a 25 percent increase in population. And that’s no small task considering that much of this land is private property.

Thanks to this unique voluntary conservation agreement that was brought to life with land owners, businesses and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the birds are seeing a much improved future.

And this is the kind of story we’re honored to play a supporting role in.

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A self-professed energy nerd, Paul loves to explore how technology trends are bringing convenience and surprising benefits to our lives.

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