By Jim Steiert
Results of a helicopter survey to assess lesser prairie chicken populations across five states lend optimism that listing the grouse as an Endangered Species can be averted. Listing could hurt ranching, farming, oil, gas, wind energy, and conservation interests.
The survey of the southwest Texas Panhandle and portions of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas found previously unknown prairie chicken booming grounds known as leks. In Kansas leks were beyond the previously presumed northern perimeter of historic range.
The survey of over 300,000 square miles will produce the first statistically valid five-state estimate of lek and prairie chicken numbers.
Sean Kyle, chairman of the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group and a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist, is optimistic over preliminary survey findings.
"Surveys will be the basis of a range-wide management plan for lesser prairie chickens in the five states, in collaboration with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Grassland Initiative. The plan could help to avoid the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designating the lesser prairie chicken as federally threatened or endangered," says Kyle.
Native to the Southern High Plains, the lesser prairie chicken has been an Endangered Species listing candidate since 1995, primarily due to habitat loss. The Fish and Wildlife Service will release a proposed rule on status of the bird for public comment as early as August.