Several years ago on one early spring morning, Nolan Fisher, then manager of Kanopolis State Park and I slipped into a blind overlooking a high spot in the middle of a sparse pasture where prairie chicken mating dances were about to take place known as a “lek,” and for the next couple hours we were treated to a ritual everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. The males showed up a few at a time to dance, swagger and emit loud throaty mating calls known as “booms” which can be heard over a mile away on a calm morning. Reminiscent of Native American dances around a roaring campfire, male prairie chickens repeat this bizarre but amazing ritual every spring in an effort to win the attention and affection of the local female prairie chickens.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past few years, you have read and heard numerous times about the controversy surrounding lesser prairie chickens here in KS. Let me briefly unpack the chain of events and maybe help you better understand what all the fuss has been about. In 2010, knowing something must be done about fast declining lesser prairie chicken populations, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas, the five states containing the majority of the lesser prairie chicken population partnered together with the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to begin the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative (LPCI.) The NRCS worked with farmers, ranchers and landowners to increase habitat through conservation efforts that would benefit both landowners and prairie chickens alike. With this initiative, participation was voluntary and kept the federal government out of the mix as well, leaving all control in the hands of each individual state.
However, in 2014, despite great strides made through the lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative, the US Fish and Wildlife Service stepped in anyway and listed the lesser prairie chicken as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Even though a special ruling was passed promising the five states continued control over conservation efforts, the federal government was now involved and it was feared participation in all efforts could become mandatory. Besides, the feds don’t have a stellar record concerning anything they’ve been involved in of late!
Since the “threatened” listing in 2014, much time, money and effort have been spent trying to get the feds to change their mind. Finally this week a federal judge reversed the ruling, saying the US Fish and Wildlife Service was wrong to list the chickens as “threatened,” removing the federal government from the project again.
As the several year drought has somewhat loosened its grip on our region, lesser prairie chicken numbers have rebounded nicely, an estimated increase of 10,000 birds over a 2013 count. Our pastor is in the midst of a sermon series talking about relevant culture issues and last week’s topic looked at how our society now tends to worship creation rather than the Creator. I agree wholly with trying to save the lesser prairie chickens, but it seems to me all the legislative time and money spent on doing so borders on worshiping creation. I wonder if we worshiped the Creator as we should, how many such problems would fix themselves…Just a thought. Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!
Steve can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org