Males have long tufts of feathers (pinnae) on the sides of the neck that are erected during courtship displays along with brilliant yellow supraorbital eyecombs and reddish esophageal air sacs. Their sequence of vocalizations and posturing, often described as booming, gobbling, yodeling, or bubbling, attracts not only the females but also birders from across the country to watch their mating dance.

Throughout the Southwest and Midwest, the lesser prairie-chicken’s population size and geographic range have dramatically diminished due to the widespread conversion of native prairie grasslands to agricultural uses, leaving southeast New Mexico as one of the bird’s most important undisturbed habitats.

Protecting a Prairie-Chicken Stronghold

Following an extensive public planning process, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) about 35 miles east of Roswell to provide much-needed habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken as well as the sand dune lizard. To conserve this high value habitat, the BLM requested The Conservation Fund’s assistance in acquiring key lands in and around the special area.

In 2010, The Conservation Fund purchased 7,440 acres of land within the ACEC and subsequently transferred it to the Bureau of Land Management. The project received funding from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and was strongly supported by New Mexico Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall.

With support from Concho Resources, we purchased 2,500 acres in 2012 in eastern Chaves County known as Sand Ranch. Using funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the BLM then purchased nearly 1,800 acres of the Sand Ranch property. By leveraging private funds from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, we also purchased 42,000 acres of federal and state grazing permits and leases around Sand Ranch, most of which will be voluntarily retired to help conserve habitat value on the public lands.

Why This Project Matters

These conserved lands are recognized as one of the greatest strongholds for the lesser prairie-chicken and some of the most accessible places in the state to view the prairie-chicken in its native habitat. It is also a significant location for some of the largest known populations of sand dune lizards. With these projects, we’ve conserved most of the land within BLM’s nearly 58,000-acre Area of Critical Environmental Concern for the species.