AERIAL SURVEY TO SEARCH LESSER PRAIRIE CHICKEN RANGE
March 15, 2012
Helicopters will be used to search for new breeding grounds; data may help prevent endangered species listing
PRATT — Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) biologists are cooperating with the Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) to find new lesser prairie chicken breeding grounds, called “leks,” in western Kansas. WAFWA received funding to evaluate an aerial survey technique that can be used for uniform monitoring across the five-state range of the lesser prairie chicken.
During the survey this spring, surveyors will fly low-elevation transects in helicopters within several randomly chosen 10-square kilometer blocks throughout the lesser prairie chicken range, which includes portions of western Kansas, southeastern Colorado, western Oklahoma, north Texas, and eastern New Mexico. Field crews will train on March 29-31 in Trego County and conduct official survey work across all of western Kansas until the middle of May.
“Everyone in western Kansas is asked to be on the alert for prairie chicken leks,” says KDWPT small game coordinator Jim Pitman. “We are trying to acquire better information on the distribution and population of lesser prairie chickens to help guide an impending Endangered Species Act listing decision being developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This data, coupled with U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation efforts, provide us with the information that may help prevent listing of the lesser prairie chicken.
“If a lek is observed this spring, we are asking that it be reported to the nearest KDWPT biologist or law enforcement officer. We also have an online reporting database. This information is extremely important to the department because it will help us target conservation programs and provide site recommendations to energy developers.”
The work was contracted to Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc., of Cheyenne, Wyo., and the aerial survey protocol was developed by the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group, of which KDWPT is a partner.