Landowner, land manager working to help lesser prairie-chicken
The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative is helping landowners and land managers like Glen Mull and his daughter, Amy (Mull) Harter, and Tom Turner not only to promote the overall health of their grazing lands but to improve the wildlife habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken.
The Mulls own grassland acres in Edwards County. Turner manages grassland acres in Edwards and Stafford counties. Their land is adjoined, and Turner manages the wildlife practices while Mull manages the cattle that graze both properties. Good stewardship is a core value on both sides of the fence.
With the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Mulls and Turner have enrolled roughly 3,000 acres into the initiative that will benefit the lesser prairie-chicken.
Greg Henderson and Rita Schartz are NRCS District Conservationists in Edwards and Stafford counties, respectively, who work with these producers and who see a real benefit to the Initiative. "Tom and Glen are a perfect fit for the LPCI," says Henderson.
In 2010, Turner was approved for an NRCS Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program contract. Through this program, which provides technical and financial assistance, Turner has installed conservation practices to promote healthy grazing lands and to improve the natural wildlife habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken.
Schartz worked with Turner and developed a grazing management plan to address brush management. "The key to brush management is recognizing potential problems and controlling them before they become severe," says Schartz. Turner is spraying wild plum thickets with herbicide on his grassland area to improve habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken and to open up more grassland area. "Keeping this habitat is important to us and the proper cover is important for the birds," says Turner. He added that without the WHIP contract he would not have been able to do as much work on the property to improve the wildlife habitat. "Improving this grassland acreage will not only improve livestock performance, but it will also provide prairie-chicken habitat--it's a win-win," says Turner. "That's the main reason I'm doing it.
"If it's good for the lesser prairie-chicken, it's got to be good for the cattle."
Turner is also burning the grassland to improve forage quality and quantity for wildlife and livestock. "Prescribed burning is often used as a management practice to establish and manage new native grass stands," explains Schartz. Burning recycles the nutrients tied up in old plant growth, she adds. "This increases livestock production because the cattle are getting better food." Turner burned two cells this year, and plans to burn the remaining acres next year to maximize the benefits.
Through WHIP, Turner installed over a mile in cross-fencing. He has separated the larger grassland acreage into two smaller ones, and this now offers Turner the option to rotate the cattle through different cells on a grazing schedule. This helps him maximize forage use and reduce overgrazing.
On the Mull property, NRCS cost shared on two wells, two tanks, and solar pumps. "Because of the cross-fencing and livestock watering facilities, we can better manage these grazing lands," states Mull.
"If you come here early in the morning, this is where you'll see the prairie-chickens," says Turner standing near a lek. Each spring, an extraordinary mating ritual occurs with the courtship of the prairie-chicken. These areas--called leks, or booming grounds--are actually formed in fall when the order of dominance is established among the males. On the Mull property, chickens gather at dusk and dawn performing elaborate dances designed to attract females.
Turner and Mull consider themselves fortunate to have prairie-chicken leks on their properties. "When you see these birds (prairie-chickens) you know you are doing something right," says Mull.
"This has just been an amazing process," says Rita Schartz on the Mulls and Turner partnership. She adds, "You have a land manager and landowner with two different goals. The land manager wants to have prairie-chickens on their property--for the landowner, prairie-chickens are a secondary--their goal is to improve grazing lands."
"We want to manage it in a way that will ensure its sustainability for the next generation," says Mull. "This land has been in the family for three generations. Our goal is to develop wildlife habitat while operating an economically viable ranch."
The LPCI is available in 36 Kansas counties: Barber, Clark, Comanche, Edwards, Ellis, Finney, Ford, Gove, Graham, Grant, Gray, Greeley, Hamilton, Haskell, Hodgeman, Kearny, Kiowa, Lane, Logan, Meade, Morton, Ness, Pawnee, Pratt, Rush, Scott, Seward, Sheridan, Sherman, Stafford, Stanton, Stevens, Thomas, Trego, Wallace, and Wichita.
According to Jon Ungerer, LPCI Coordinator, other states addressing lesser prairie-chicken habitat include Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. "Over the past two years, the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative has succeeded in improving and increasing lesser prairie-chicken habitat acres in all five states." Conservation practices on the Mull and Turner properties have had an incredible benefit to promote healthy grazing lands for their ranching operation, but are also productive for the lesser prairie-chicken and other wildlife."
For more information about the LPCI in Kansas, visit www.ks.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/lpci/index.html or contact your local USDA Service Center (listed in the telephone book under United States Government or at offices.usda.gov).