Short grass prairie covers 300,000 square miles of the lower Great Plains of the United States, including portions of New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado. The region supports more than 300 species of breeding, migrating, and overwintering bird species and is a hotspot for about two dozen bird species of high national importance, including the Lesser Prairie-Chicken.
Over time, half of the prairie has been degraded or converted to other uses, such as residential areas and highways. Large ranching operations compete with birds for habitat. Energy development, such as gas and oil wells, transmission lines, and the growing wind power industry, continue to place more stress on these bird populations.
The key to bird conservation on the short grass prairie is to develop and implement voluntary solutions to the conflict between “working” landscapes and bird populations. In 2009, NFWF's Short Grass Prairie Conservation Program was developed to harness the solutions that now exist and bring those opportunities to landowners and others who have a stake in this region and its rich resources. One of its primary goals is centered on recovering the Lesser Prairie-Chicken, an "umbrella" species for numerous other grassland birds.
Key conservation strategies for this program include:
- Direct restoration, enhancement, and protection of short grass prairie and the playa lakes that are interspersed across the prairie;
- Technical assistance and coordination to help guide management actions of public and private landowners;
- Development of best management practices and decision support tools; and
- Outreach and educational activities that can demonstrate direct benefits to imperiled species.