Fewer than 500 prairie chickens are left in Missouri. That’s a big difference from the hundreds of thousands that lived here when more than a fourth of Missouri was covered in prairie.
Max Alleger, the Missouri Conservation Department’s prairie chicken recovery leader, has high hopes that we’re not looking at the end. In fact, he’s hoping that if we can do two key things, Missourians will help not only prairie chickens but also a whole array of animals that depend on the open grasslands. “We need to think of this as a long-term effort, and it has to be something that local landowners, communities and other groups pitch in for together,” Max told me.
In January, Missouri will get the first part of a total of $700,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the next three years to put into the effort. The Missouri Conservation Commission has also committed funds for it. Audubon, Missouri Prairie Foundation and other organizations are playing a part, too.
In the last blog I mentioned the 33 conservation opportunity areas identified in our Wildlife Action Plan. Well, six of those areas are places where prairie chickens, along with a mix of other birds and animals, could have real chance of surviving. The birds are there as well as some of the remaining prairie. If the landowners team up to ensure that the prairie chickens not only have places to do their mating (the booming grounds you heard about if you clicked on the link at the start of the blog), but also places to nest and feed, the birds have a chance.
It’s not just a matter of reintroducing the prairie chickens as was done years ago with deer and turkey. The kind of places they need to live just aren’t naturally there. To keep a rich mix of grassland wildlife thriving, a lot of different people will need work together and coordinate what they do on their respective lands. It’s really going to be community conservation that will make it work. That’s why Max and our private land conservationists are working locally to give people an idea of what they can do together. One of those six opportunity areas is near Cole Camp.
Several years ago the Missouri Prairie Foundation held a Lek Trek event to highlight the plight of prairie chickens. One of our biologists, Sharon Gough, spent countless hours at the various community events along the way. She even made a prairie chicken costume to add to the fun. But it’s beyond time just to be aware. It’s time to make a place for the birds—and only the many landowners can choose to do that.