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The Shawnee News-Star
  • Cards-N-Time: Prairie Chickens

  • Some time ago I bought a mounted lesser prairie chicken hen at an estate sale for $2.50. Since then prairie chickens have been officially declared an endangered species making any kind of commerce in such birds illegal and my specimen more rare. Given recent news coverage of this bird it seemed appropriate to feature here.
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  • Some time ago I bought a mounted lesser prairie chicken hen at an estate sale for $2.50. Since then prairie chickens have been officially declared an endangered species making any kind of commerce in such birds illegal and my specimen more rare. Given recent news coverage of this bird it seemed appropriate to feature here.
    From the pictures accompanying this article you can see how beautiful are these birds which is why I felt compelled to name mine “Edna” after a beautiful person who cared for my Mother in her last years.
    Lesser Prairie chicken males get all the attention because of their colorful plumage and burbling mating calls. They are a ground-dwelling member of the grouse family weighing about 1.6 pounds with a wingspan of 25 inches. They live in five states [Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico] roughly comprising the same area as the Dust bowl. [Cards-N-Time, April 3, 2011].
    Living on the ground has resulted in the steady loss of their habitat from agriculture, oil and gas production, and wind turbines. It also makes them leery of high places where their natural enemies, raptors or birds of prey such as hawks and eagles roost. Man-made hazards like wind turbines are another danger overhead being as tall as thirty-story buildings with rotors as wide as wings on Boeing passenger jets spinning up to 170 mph at the tips.
    As the steady depletion of the Ogallala aquifer phases out crops in the Great Plains, farmers are increasingly depending on oil, gas, and wind turbines for their livelihood. It is a zero-sum game between man and bird with state and federal governments as the referees.
    Private industry and state government are both very involved in efforts to preserve this natural resource, so it is not a clear-cut issue of man versus nature or local, private interests favoring depletion and extinction against environmental groups and federal agencies protecting the birds. All the interests involved want to protect prairie chickens: they differ in their opinions of who can best do this.
    One problem is measuring the population of prairie chickens. How can you get an accurate count of birds who survive by hiding? The Fish and Wildlife Service [FWS] estimated in 2013 the chicken population stood at about 17,600—half what it was a year earlier and less than a third of its population in the late 1990’s. [USA today, July 7, 2014] The Center for biological Diversity estimates that only 34,000 birds survive. Opponents argue that FWS estimates range from “low” to “high,” and the natural variability in population justifies reliance on the high estimate which is only 900 birds less than the highest-ever estimate.
    The second problem is choice of controller. Naturally private interests prefer State agencies which they feel are closer to the problem and better able to represent them than the feds. A problem with federal controls is the multiplicity of agencies involved and the difficulty of both coordinating their actions and complying with their differing regulations.
    Page 2 of 2 - The crux of the matter turns on the “Conservation Status” scale used to regulate the birds’ environment. It has five scale points ranging from two levels of Least Concern to three levels of Threatened to two levels of Extinction. On March 27 the FWS listed the Lesser Prairie Chicken as “Threatened”. State and Industry groups sued contending the level was too strict and environmental groups counter-sued contending it was too lax. The mere threat of listing is useful, environmentalists believe, in pushing states to protect the bird.
    As early as 1962 Rachel Carson warned of this bird’s possible demise in her book, “Silent Spring.” No one involved denies its value and the existential threat facing the species. In the days to come you will hear a lot about this precious natural resource but the argument will not be whether to protect it but who best can do that.

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