The lesser prairie chicken (Tympanuchus pallicicinctus),
hereafter LEPC, is a species of grouse found on grasslands of
the Southern Great Plains. Historically, the LEPC was common
throughout the western third of Oklahoma, as well as in areas of
Kansas, Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico. While historical
records are too limited to precisely define the LEPC’s original
range, about 90% is no longer suitable for the species due to
extensive conversion of prairies to croplands and prairie
habitat degradation and fragmentation.
In response to a 1995 petition to list the LEPC as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined it was “warranted, but precluded from listing.” This finding indicates that evidence supported listing the species under the ESA, but also that the agency had higher-priority species to address at that time. Unless LEPC populations sufficiently increase, the species may be ESA-listed in the future – resulting in additional federal regulations and restrictions on human uses and development within its range.
The possibility of an ESA listing has increased concerns for the species’ status, as well as for the possible constraints a listing could cause on various activities. Since the USFWS’s determination, the LEPC has received added scientific and management attention as well as funding for conservation-oriented research, management, educational outreach, and cooperative efforts with landowners. An Interstate Working Group, including participation by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) has been working together to prioritize research needs and coordinate management efforts among the five states in which LEPCs are still found. Federal and state funds have been made available for habitat conservation and restoration on private lands through cooperative partnerships with landowners.
The Oklahoma State Legislature (see Resolution) directed the Secretary of the Environment and ODWC to develop the Oklahoma Lesser Prairie Chicken Conservation Action Plan (OLEPCCP) to “protect, enhance, and restore their habitat while also addressing other factors leading to their decline.” The plan is to be developed in consultation with research institutions, other agencies, landowners and other stakeholders – and is to address research needs, management actions to support responsible development, and ways to provide technical assistance and incentives to landowners to improve or restore suitable habitats. The plan is intended to benefit the people, economy and wildlife resources of Oklahoma by providing a framework for effective management and habitat improvement that will address the factors contributing to the decline of the LEPC and facilitate population increase.
The ODWC contracted with The Ecosystem Management Research Institute (EMRI) to develop the OLEPCCP, in consultation with all involved parties. The planning process was conducted from January – May 2012, with opportunities for agency, non-government organization, stakeholder and general public involvement. The conservation plan addresses:
– The science describing the habitat and other needs of LEPC’s and its management, and identification of research/data gaps.
– The characteristics of high quality LEPC habitat, the types of management that would contribute to the maintenance or restoration of this quality habitat, and how much habitat is needed – and its distribution – to maintain viable LEPC populations.
– How LEPC conservation can be conducted while minimizing effects on human economies and developments.
– Appropriate habitat improvement/conservation goals and long-term management actions/strategies to achieve these goals.
– Coordinated strategies to implement management actions –
including interagency coordination and incentive or other
programs that will make restoration and maintenance of LEPC
habitat economically viable for landowners.