Green Country Biologist On Importance Of Threatened Lesser Prairie-Chicken

Monday, December 3rd 2012, 5:47 pm
By: News On 6

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to get a native species of bird on a "threatened species" list.

Green Country researchers have played a big part in that effort.

Don Wolfe is a senior biologist with Sutton Avian Research, based out of the Bartlesville area.

His team worked for ten years to tag and track nearly 900 lesser prairie-chickens in Oklahoma and New Mexico.

They're a type of grouse that once thrived in our western plains.

"It's quite often considered an iconic species of the prairie, you know, one that was very valuable to a lot of the early settlers. It's a spectacular bird to observe," said Wolfe.

11/30/2012 Related Story: Lesser Prairie-Chicken May Soon Be Deemed Threatened Species

Researchers say the population of lesser prairie-chickens has declined by more than 78 percent since the 1960s.

In Oklahoma, its habitat, which once encompassed 22 counties, is shrinking, now encompassing just five counties with occasional populations in three others.

According to Sutton's research, several factors have contributed to the decline, including the encroachment of the Eastern Red Cedar, increased oil, gas and wind power activities, high voltage power lines and even fences.

In fact, Wolfe's research shows fences are the leading cause of death for the species, and conservationists have worked with landowners to mark fences, in an effort to preserve their habitats.

However, he said most conservation efforts have been too little, too late.

"A lot more effort will be needed, and ideally a lot more funding would be made available to private land owners, who are trying to do the right thing, so that we can see a full recovery of the species again," Wolfe said.

Many people worry that giving the birds the "threatened" distinction will increase federal regulations and hinder farming, ranching and energy production.

Wolfe said, on the contrary, land owners should actually benefit from the distinction.

The U-S Fish and Wildlife Service is asking for public input over the next few months.

Go here to find out more.