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Decision on Lesser Prairie Chicken status due soon

Most Sooners with an interest in wildlife conservation are familiar with the Lesser Prairie Chicken and it’s fight for survival in the short-grass prairies of northwestern Oklahoma. The Lesser has been a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act since 1998, and the U.S.

Kansas Dept of Parks, Wildlife & Tourism photo.

Fish and Wildlife Service will release a proposed rule on the status of the bird in September.  Additionally  there has been considerable controversy in Oklahoma between conservationists and the wind energy industry in the news in recent years with ODWC attempting to act as a mediator.  Unfortunately the Chicken is one of those species that just doesn’t have much tolerance for human intrusion.  There are no easy answers to the Chicken’s plight.

Recently a giant step forward in understanding the Lesser’s range and population was completed in the first range-wide aerial survey that included portions of five states.  The Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group is composed of biologists from the state fish and wildlife agencies of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. The Working Group collaborated with federal agencies and West Ecosystems, Inc., of Laramie, Wyo., to conduct the large-scale, helicopter-based survey to locate lesser prairie chicken leks across the High Plains in all five states. Leks are the areas that are used in the spring for courtship and mating.  The results of the survey will be available soon and used to produce the first ever, statistically valid, five-state lek estimate.  Information from these surveys will be used as a baseline by the state fish and wildlife agencies to monitor trends in prairie chicken populations and to target conservation programs in partnership with private landowners, oil and gas, wind industry and electric utilities.  The USFW decision on the Chicken’s status in September could have significant implications to prairie chicken conservation and to all parties involved in land use and development in northwestern Oklahoma.

Read more about Lesser Prairie Chicken conservation on the ODWC site at http://www.wildlifedepartment.com/wildlifemgmt/lesser_chicken.htm

An outstanding video on the Lesser produced by Texas Parks & Wildlife can be seen at http://policy.audubon.org/videos/saving-lesser-prairie-chicken-texas-park-and-wildlife

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