Important Bird Areas

NM Lesser-Prairie Chicken Complex

New Mexico

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Complex in eastern New Mexico encompasses over 2 million acres, including a number of properties managed specifically for prairie-chickens.
* The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish owns 29 properties designated as ?Prairie Chicken Wildlife Areas? covering over 23,000 acres, as well as the 5,000-acre Sandhills Prairie Conservation Area.
* The Bureau of Land Management recently established the 57,000-acre Lesser-Prairie Chicken Area of Critical Environmental Concern and has closed an additional 163,000 acres to new oil and gas leasing.
* The Nature Conservancy?s Milnesand Prairie Preserve protects 18,500 acres of prairie-chicken habitat.
Some other private land owners have voluntarily implemented conservation measures benefitting prairie-chickens on their properties, through programs such as the Landowner Incentive Program, the Conservation Reserve Program, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances. New Mexico state law protects the confidentiality of lek locations on private land. Access to state and federal lands managed for prairie-chickens is restricted during the breeding season (mid-February through June).

This IBA designation does not impose any regulatory or conservation measures within its boundaries. Participation by land owners in conservation activities will remain voluntary.

Ornithological Summary

The shinnery oak-sand dune-grassland habitats utilized by Lesser Prairie-Chickens in New Mexico are also home to other declining grassland species such as Burrowing Owl, Scaled Quail, and both Cassin?s and Grasshopper Sparrows. The boundaries of this IBA also encompass Grulla National Wildlife Refuge. When water levels are high, the playa lake at the heart of this refuge can host thousands of migrating Sandhill Cranes as well as numerous waterfowl and shorebirds.

Conservation Issues

Range-wide, Lesser Prairie-Chickens currently occupy less than 10% of their historic range. Much of the historic decline in their populations is thought to have been associated with the conversion of native habitats to agricultural uses. In addition to continuing threats associated with grazing and agricultural conversion, more recently, the development of oil and gas leases, commercial wind energy development, and the building of transmission lines and other regional infrastructure have become significant issues for prairie-chickens. Because they avoid tall structures (both natural and man-made), the encroachment of tall woody plants, which is associated with fire suppression, has become a problem in some areas. Recent droughts, which reduce both food supplies and the vegetative cover needed for successful breeding and predator avoidance, have impacted prairie-chicken populations in New Mexico.

Ownership

The area included in this IBA includes federal, state, and private lands. According to the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Interstate Working Group's Conservation Initiative, 59% of the historical and occupied range of prairie-chickens in eastern NM is privately owned.

Habitat

Historically, Lesser-Prairie Chickens occupied the sandhill rangelands of eastern New Mexico, favoring native short-grass prairies, including shinnery oak/bluestem and sand-sage/bluestem habitats. While some agricultural lands can provide a food source for prairie-chickens, they rarely provide adequate cover for breeding, roosting, or predator avoidance. Former croplands that are converted to grasslands through initiatives such as the Conservation Reserve Program are most helpful to prairie-chickens when mixtures of native grass species are planted instead of monocultures of non-natives.