The Nature Conservancy has cancelled public prairie chicken viewing at Dunn Ranch in the Grand River Grasslands for the 2010 season.This cancellation will give the prairie chicken population an opportunity to rebound after enduring two years of severe weather events.
Public viewings were also cancelled in 2009, when constant snow cover and one of the wettest springs on record prevented chicks from reaching adulthood.This past winter, the prairie chickens experienced over four months of constant snow cover, and heavy rainfall throughout the year.
Despite the harsh conditions, the current population of prairie chickens at the preserve appears to have increased in numbers since last year.“The wet weather last fall (2009) was actually a blessing for the chickens because the farmers were unable to harvest all of their crops. This left food available for the prairie chickens through the winter,” said the Conservancy’s Grand River Grasslands Site Manager Randy Arndt.
The increased number of prairie chicken sightings is an excellent sign that the population is successfully recovering; however, Conservancy staff want to ensure that the birds’ reproduction won’t be negatively impacted by public viewings or other human activity. “We don’t believe the presence of the viewing blind is harmful to the reproduction process of the chickens. However, since our population is still rebounding, we don’t want to contribute in any way to the further decline of this small population,” said Arndt. “At the same time, upland birds can rebound quickly in the right circumstances and we are confident that our prairie chickens will do just that.”
In the last two years, The Nature Conservancy has restored more than 1,000 acres of prairie at Dunn Ranch.This increased nesting habitat will aid in the chickens’ recovery.“We look forward to a robust population in 2011,” said Arndt. “We hope for a productive spring with better weather for the nesting prairie chickens.”
The prairie chicken viewings are popular due to the birds’ elaborate mating rituals, in which males dance, inflate brightly colored air sacs on their necks, and make a booming call that can be heard for over a mile.The Conservancy’s Dunn Ranch is the only public site in Missouri where prairie chickens can be observed from a blind at breeding areas known as "leks" or “booming” grounds.
Conservancy staff hopes to resume public viewings in 2011.
Dunn Ranch is a 4,000-acre preserve within the Grand River Grasslands, and contains the largest expanse of unplowed prairie in northern Missouri.The Grasslands region spans 70,000 acres across the Missouri-Iowa border, and is the only known opportunity to conserve a functional tallgrass prairie landscape on deep loamy soils.
The Conservancy works closely with private ranchers, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the National Resources Conservation Service, and theIowa Department of Natural Resources to preserve and restore grasslands throughout the Central Tallgrass Ecoregion.
The Conservancy and its partners utilize a myriad of management techniques, including prescribed fire, conservation grazing, tree removal, and invasive species control to bring back the original habitat for the benefit of prairie chickens and other grassland species.
Today, less than one percent remains of the original tallgrass prairie which once covered a third of Missouri.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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