Spirit of the Prairie

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2008

Last revision: Dec. 7, 2010

like to arrive well before good shooting light so that I have time to enjoy the calls of the meadowlarks, the booming of the prairie chickens and the first rustling breezes as morning arrives in the prairie.

Before entering the blind, I use my flashlight to ensure that nothing is hiding inside. Mice and other animals, even snakes, have used my blind as shelter. One morning, a prairie chicken stood on top of my blind while I was inside. I pressed my hand against the fabric and could feel his feet stamping as he surveyed the prairie for females.

The many hours I spent in a blind photographing prairie chickens have brought me many unforgettable moments, but the joy of experiencing them was tinged with sadness. I couldn’t help wondering how many more springs we will have to be able to see their booming dance and hear their sounds. Will there be a tomorrow for prairie chickens to dance again?

I hope so.

Prairie Chicken Recovery

Greater prairie chickens numbered in the hundreds of thousands on vast native grasslands that covered a third of Missouri prior to European settlement. Dramatic population declines over the past 100 years resulted from equally dramatic land use changes across those prairie landscapes. Today, fewer than 500 birds scattered in isolated flocks, remain.

Prairie chickens depend on open vistas and expansive grasslands to avoid predators and successfully reproduce. They rarely persist in landscapes smaller than four square miles, and much of the land within these areas must be actively managed to provide suitable nesting and brood-rearing habitat.

The Missouri Department of Conservation, in cooperation with its Missouri Grasslands Coalition partners, has initiated a recovery program aimed at improving prairie chicken habitat and eventually removing the species from the State Endangered Species list. On Conservation Department and partner-owned lands, nesting, brood-rearing and roosting cover are being improved with unique approaches, including patch-burn grazing.

However, long-term success depends on the voluntary actions of private landowners. Grasslands Coalition groups are working to identify and fund cost-share and incentive programs that help the birds while meeting the economic needs of farmers and other landowners.

Initial recovery efforts are focused in six grassland landscapes where prairie chicken recovery prospects are best (see map below). If these populations can be sustained, we will seek to expand suitable habitat to help reconnect the scattered, remnant populations. To learn more about prairie chicken recovery efforts, log onto www.MissouriConservation.org/landown/grass/coalition/. Consider joining one of the Missouri Grasslands Coalition groups, with opportunities for everyone from birdwatchers to hunters to farmers.

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