Lesser Prairie Chicken Larry Lamsa/Flickr
POPULATION SURVEY: An aerial survey of the population of the lesser prairie chicken is being carried out between March 16 and mid-May. The results could have major implications for whether or not the birds will be relisted as a threatened species.

Aerial surveys document what’s going on in lesser prairie chicken habitat

What aerial surveys reveal about prairie chicken population could have big impact on whether bird is listed as threatened or endangered.

It may not seem like much is happening as airplanes and drones fly over lesser prairie chicken habitat between March 16 and mid-May, but it could be a very big deal. The aerial surveys that begin March 16 and run through mid-May in five states containing lesser prairie chicken habitat are designed to discover what's happening with populations of the birds and could have a major impact on decisions about whether or not to remove the birds from the threatened species list.

The surveys are conducted annually by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to document population trends and how the bird is responding to management strategies identified in the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan.

The range-wide plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and the state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. It was developed to ensure conservation of the lesser prairie chicken with voluntary cooperation of landowners and industry. The plan allows agriculture producers and industry to continue operations while reducing impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat.

“We’ve established a consistent methodology for these aerial surveys, working closely with the wildlife agencies of each of the states involved,” explains Roger Wolfe, WAFWA’s lesser prairie chicken program manager. “We’re documenting population trends over time that will allow us to see how various management strategies for the bird are working on the ground.”

The surveys will be conducted by helicopter in locations chosen randomly within lesser prairie chicken range, which is part of the methodology strategy. In previous years, some of the fly paths prompted calls, which is why WAFWA is getting the word out about the start of aerial survey work.

Results from this year’s surveys will be available on July 1.

WAFWA news releases are available at wafwa.org/news.

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan can be found at wafwa.org.

Since 1922, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has advanced conservation in western North America. Representing 23 Western states and Canadian provinces, WAFWA’s reach encompasses more than 40% of North America, including two-thirds of the United States. Drawing on the knowledge of scientists across the West, WAFWA is recognized as the expert source for information and analysis about Western wildlife. WAFWA supports sound resource management and building partnerships at all levels to conserve wildlife for the use and benefit of all citizens, now and in the future.

Source: Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

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