Aerial surveys for lesser prairie-chickens began March 17 and will run through mid-May in five states containing habitat the bird needs to thrive. The surveys are conducted annually by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to ascertain 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. This plan allows agriculture producers and industry to continue operations while reducing impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat.
“Working with the wildlife agencies of each of these five states, we’ve established a consistent methodology to conduct these aerial surveys,” explained Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA’s grassland coordinator. “This allows us to get the most accurate information possible so we can 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.
Last year’s aerial surveys brought good news: an abundance of spring rainfall in 2015, along with ongoing efforts associated with the range-wide plan and other conservation initiatives, helped increase the lesser prairie-chicken population by approximately 25 percent from 2014 to 2015. Results from this year’s surveys will be available on July 1. Despite last year’s encouraging news, the population is still low compared to historical numbers, and the impacts to the lesser prairie-chicken and its habitat still exist. WAFWA is committed to continued successful implementation of the range-wide plan and the long-term recovery of this iconic grassland bird.
For more information about the lesser prairie-chicken and the conservation work being done to support it, see the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Plan.
Source: Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies