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Mo Birders,

There is a scene in the Wizard of Oz I have always loved. The Wizard is behind the curtain manipulating the levers and dials to the Magnificent and Great OZ. Toto, Dorothy's tiny dog, goes behind the curtain revealing the man. "Pay No attention to the Man behind the Curtain." That must be one of the great lines in the history of cinema and is extremely important in paying attention to anything in this day and age.

The recent forwarding by Edge of the news from Max Alleger is indeed wonderful. There has never been a report to my knowledge of an 80% year success rate of Gr. Prairie Chickens (GPCH) previously reported. I will look forward to seeing the data at the upcoming Prairie Grouse conference. As the saying goes-"the Devil is in the details."

It is not too late to save Greater Prairie Chickens, even in Missouri. And this long note is NOT meant to question the sincerity or sense of purpose of Max or anyone involved with the Prairie Chicken program in Missouri. Max & his team are dedicated and hard-working with a very clear devotion to these amazing birds.

The bigger picture would have been extremely encouraging IF Max had also announced that 40 farmers took out 4000 acres of fescue and replaced it with brome or native grasses. Even better 40,000 acres. Do you understand?
 
So what does one good year mean? And how localized are these results? How are the practices being carried out and what is the short term and long term effect on the habitat?

In Missouri, one good year means a lot. If 40 of the roughly  90 females left all had 80% success then approx. 360 to 400 young prairie chickens survived to 2 weeks or 2 months. That could more than double the entire states population if that number can be carried into next spring.

The species has always had the potential to have excellent years and expand rapidly. The history of the species clearly demonstrates this. But the question is how many birds can the Wah-kon-tah complex hold? What areas nearby are there for birds to expand into, how big are they and what are the conditions in those areas?

The fact that the grazed areas are showing higher attraction holds both good and bad news as well. I am extremely concerned about modern cattle techniques being applied to our public conservation/ wildlife areas and not supervised intensely and in fact studied by Wildlife Biologists. I watched cattle graze the MDC portion of Pawnee Prairie- which also has potential to hold some numbers of GPCH. This is roughly 3 air miles NW of the Dunn Ranch. Dunn is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. The entire localized group of birds in a roughly 30 mile radius from there to Kellerton, Iowa has been thrown into jeopardy for unclear reasons.

About 100 miles to the west, of SW Missouri, the story was not so rosy, and I was quite surprised by the news. Dr. Lance McNew reports the first results of his several year work on these birds in the Flint Hills of Kansas and nearby regions. In the largest contiguous Tallgrass area remaining on the continent, results are showing only a 5% annual survival. One in 20 young survive to the following spring. This is a curve for extinction.

If this population continues to crash, then any natural recruitment for western Missouri effectively ends. Why does this matter? Natural gene flow between the "healthy" birds in Kansas will be cut off. This means MDC continues to spend huge amounts of money annually transporting birds by trapping. It is important to point out -there are bright spots here as well. Gr. Prairie Chickens are responding very well to management of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve jointly owned by the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy. Booming males have tripled in recent years and localized populations seem to be stabilizing near Strong City, KS.

Bill Vodehal and John Haufler released a massive monograph on the state of Prairie Grouse in very early 2009. The authors, advised by the worlds top GPCH field biologist -Dr. John Toepfer, call for a rethinking of what grassland grouse require to sustain viable populations. 

Long term sustainable populations of Greater Prairie Chickens are seen to expand naturally in landscapes where grassland acreages of 225,000 exist. This amount of acreage does not need to be contiguous. Around 5,000 or more birds can be expected in this sized landscape. Ecological patterning is needed in creating these future refuges and some areas are critically important and much more so over others. This was specifically seen to work in Minnesota over a 20 year period, and this year at least 6 new booming grounds were located as GPCH seems to be moving back toward Manitoba.

The other good news for birds like Bell's Vireo, is that there is no need to waste the money removing every last tree. BUT... 

Fescue Free ! Creating zones of no fescue are or at least could be of vital importance in Missouri.  Burning regimes need to be modified to include more fall burning. Farmers should be encouraged that the new cellulosic biofuels plant in St. Joseph, Mo can accept up to 1 million tons of native grasses. Native grass haying for this purpose is done in September once a year. 

Populations in Missouri could once again expand if proper ecosystem management were able to be put in place by those responsible. Political will to do so is deplorably lacking. 

In an interview, I specifically asked  MDC Director John Hoskins, who is now retired, whether MDC has eminent domain ability. John responded that indeed they do, but that has never been used. Since MoDOT regularly is "forced" to use this power, when do the people who are responsible for the population of wildlife species decide that proper amounts of habitat is something of value? Phil Wire pointed out to me that a single highway interchange costs $28 million.  What kind of habitat could be restored with $28 M? Hmm how about 2 interchanges worth? Or do Greater Prairie Chickens deserve a new highway- Let's call it a Highway to the Future? What are the costs and what are the benefits?

Another example, I have been pointing out that the greatest numbers in the history of this interior subspecies, occurred in NORTHERN Missouri. All data clearly supports this. So why has MDC chosen to locate nearly all efforts in the SW Mo region? When I was a young MDC biologist in the Columbia field research office (1979-80), Don Christisen (sp?) specifically told me that there were still roughly 12,000 GPCH left in MO. 

Before too many years Don picked up the beginnings of the big decline.  By the time he published his monograph, in 1985,  only 8,500 birds remained and some of the largest groups were still found in NE Mo in Putnam, Sullivan and Audrain cos. Birds still persist in very small numbers in this area with another reliable report this year of a family group. How breeding is sustained is not known as there seem to be no remaining booming grounds. I filmed the last male Attwater's Prairie Chicken in the final naturally occurring area this spring. Three known females are left in the Texas City Prairie Preserve. Attwater's Prairie Chickens had another very good year further west near Eagle Lake, Tx.

Meanwhile, everyone knows that our film on the national state of the species is very near completion. After nearly 4 years, we have in fact, entered post production and will be widely broadcast in spring of 2012 over the PBS network. You can go to : www.thelastprairiechicken.com for more information. Additional websites are under domain control and are being launched as we can afford. Those will include Pennies for Prairies and one more about the state of the population. There we will be developing over the next 6 months a comprehensive site replete with information. Our film will include numerous items for sale including a companion book and a significant portion of the net sales, NOT just of the profits, will be devoted to the purchase and restoration of our native prairie grasslands. The funds we raise will go directly to organizations like TNC and Missouri Prairie Foundation.

This fall you have invited Dr. John Faaborg to the ASM fall meeting. John is an expert in forest fragmentation and island effect. So talk to him about isolated populations. Ask questions.

But if you- as citizens of Missouri, do not demand that agencies which do the state chartered duties and fulfill the responsibilities for which they were created, then those agencies will do the bidding of whomever they please or are instructed.

Bigger picture:  there are at least 390,000 birds remaining nationwide, but it will require a lot of work and a new mind set in a traditionally conservative region to restore populations. But that is also good news. 

Conserve, Conservative, Conservation. There are no "L's" in conservation. Frame the debate properly or begin to say good bye in our children's lifetime to many birds you and I have come to love, because as one of the other sayings goes "this is not rocket science".

All my Best,


Tim

PS- please forgive any typos or gross errors as I began this 'note' at 3:20 Am....

Timothy R. Barksdale
Birdman Productions L.L.C.
& MundoAveLoco! L.L.C.
P.O. Box 1124
65 Mountain View Dr.
Choteau, MT 59422

Kansas City Area:
4505 W. 66th st.
Prairie Village, KS 66208
913-432-0414

NEW Cell: 913-669-2661

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At Birdman Productions, we make films about birds, and tell stories that change people's lives.

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The Audubon Society of Missouri's Wild Bird Discussion Forum
ASM Fall Meeting, September 23 - 25, 2011 at Camp Clover Point, Lake of the Ozarks State Park, http://mobirds.org/Meetings/