ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A grouse that has been the focus of an ongoing legal battle over whether it warrants federal protection has seen its numbers increase by nearly 30 percent over the past year.
Officials say aerial surveys for the lesser-prairie chicken in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas show an overall upward population trend over the last six years.
More favorable weather patterns this past year contributed to apparent increases in some areas where the birds are found.
Officials say there's concern that moderate to severe drought over portions of the lesser prairie-chicken range this year could lead to a down turn in the population next year.
As part of a range-wide voluntary conservation plan, economic incentives are offered to landowners and companies that set aside land to reduce impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat.