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Aerial Survey Finds an Estimated 37,170 Lesser Prairie Chickens

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The lesser prairie chicken is an iconic grassland grouse species native to parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma whose long-term population declines have brought state and federal agencies together to better manage the birds and their habitat, according to a western wildlife group’s news release.

Now, through a multistate collaborative effort, the first statistically valid, range-wide population estimate for the lesser prairie chicken has been done, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Grassland Initiative.

And the number is … envelope please … estimated at 37,170 birds.

The Grassland Initiative and the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group, composed of biologists from state fish and wildlife departments in five states, the Bureau of Land Management and West Ecosystems Inc. of Laramie, Wyo. conducted a large-scale, helicopter-based survey of lesser prairie chicken leks across all five states, the release said.

A lek is the territory where males of a species gather.

The surveys were conducted from March to May and encompassed more than 300,000 square miles, according to the wildlife group.

The population estimate will be included in a plan being developed by five state wildlife agencies that is expected to be completed by next March and could influence the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision whether to designate the lesser prairie chicken as a federally threatened or endangered species.

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