The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission has approved a final Oklahoma Lesser Prairie Chicken Conservation Plan with a goal to keep the iconic prairie bird off of the Endangered Species list and ultimately increase its presence in Oklahoma.

The plan was presented for approval to the Commission at its November meeting by Russ Horton, wildlife research supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

The lesser prairie chicken population trend in Oklahoma began to drastically decline in the late 1980s and has remained low, believed to be in part due to land use changes and habitat fragmentation that are not suitable for the birds. The current population estimate of lesser prairie chickens in Oklahoma is about 37,000 birds.

A proposed listing of the lesser prairie chicken as either “endangered,” “threatened”
or “not warranted” is expected from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by late November, after which a final ruling would be offered by Sept. 2013.

According to Horton, the plan that was approved by the Commission will help achieve the recovery of lesser prairie chickens needed to either avoid an endangered listing or, in the event that the bird is listed, move more quickly toward de-listing.

Although the Department has continuously been working to conserve and benefit lesser prairie chickens for years through a range of approaches centered on habitat acquisition, restoration and enhancement, the official action plan was completed in October.
Under the plan, the Wildlife Department will continue protect, enhance and restore prairie chicken habitat while addressing other factors leading to their decline.

The plan will focus on 15 “core areas” in western and northwest Oklahoma averaging
50,000 acres each. The Department will identify research needs and management actions to support responsible development as well as develop incentives for landowners to improve and restore suitable habitat in those core areas.

“In summary, we’re looking at 15 core areas-approximately 750,000 acres,” Horton said.

The short-term goal is to stabilize lesser prairie chicken populations in Oklahoma and reverse the decline by targeting a population goal of 5,000 birds in the 15 core areas.

“Ultimately, we expect that we have potential for possibly up to 10,000 lesser prairie chickens in Oklahoma over the long-term,” Horton said.

Other business conducted at the Commission’s November meeting included the following:

  • The Commission authorized Department Director Richard Hatcher to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the City of Medicine Park to establish a designated trout fishery at Medicine Creek. Recently the Department announced that it would no longer stock trout at the Quartz Mountain trout area because of the establishment of golden algae in the stream below Altus-Lugert Lake. Golden algae is a microscopic organism that, under certain conditions, can produce toxins that cause extensive fish kills. According to Larry Cofer, southwest region fisheries supervisor for the Wildlife Department, trout appear to be more susceptible to golden-algae-related fish kills. Blooms often occur in cooler temperatures that coincide with the time of year when trout are being stocked for angling. Once established in a water body, golden algae are there to stay, and it is not possible to predict when the next toxic episode will occur. The new trout fishery at Medicine Park would include about a half-mile stretch of Medicine Creek from Gondola Dam downstream to the HWY 49 bridge.
  • The Commission received a presentation from Bill Starry and Ryan Toby from the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant (MCAPP in recognition of 50 years of partnership between the Wildlife Department and the base. Through the partnership, the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant has become nationally renown for trophy whitetail deer population and the opportunity to hunt the area through the Wildlife Department’s Controlled Hunts Program. The MCAAP sits on 45,000 acres of prime wildlife habitat and is known to produce some of the most desirable trophy bucks in the state for hunters, but its primary function is to produce munitions for the U.S. military. “That’s the most important thing,” said Starry, longtime natural resource manager for the base.
  • “To do that and then also be able to allow the public to utilize that place is tremendous.
  • And that in big part is due to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s support.” To learn more about hunting opportunities on the MCAAP through the Department’s Controlled Hunts Program, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
  • Joey Rushing, game warden stationed in Canadian Co., was recognized as the newest recipient of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Game Warden of the Year Award and the Shikar Safari Club International’s Officer of the Year Award.
  • The certified annual financial and audit report was presented by auditing firm Finley and Cook, LLC. The Department has an independent audit of the financial records and federal aid records of the agency. The FY2011 audit found no findings, and the auditors complimented the agency on its staff and internal controls.
  • The actuarial firm, Buck Consultants, presented the FY2012 Actuarial Valuation Report for the Department’s retirement plan. The funded ratio of the plan dropped from 78.1 percent last year to 76.1 percent this year due to asset returns being lower than assumed.
  • The Commission approved new agreements with the Commissioners of the Land Office, including a memorandum of agreement for the Department to lease a 160-acre easement that would expand the Drummond Flats Wildlife Management Area. The Commissioners of the Land Office Realty Division also will begin providing certified appraisals and related expertise to assist the Wildlife Department with issues related to surface damage to lands resulting from energy exploration. Additionally, the Commissioners of the Land Office Mineral and Royalty Divisions will begin assisting with Department interests.
  • Lt. Todd Tobey, game warden supervisor stationed in Pittsburg Co., was recognized for 25 years of service to the Wildlife Department. Tenure awards for 20 years of service were presented to Max Crocker, game warden stationed in Texas Co.; Jay Harvey, game warden stationed in Choctaw and Bryan counties; Curtis Latham, game warden stationed in Johnston Co.; Dane Polk, game warden stationed in Pushmataha and Latimer counties; Sherylann Densow, fisheries research lab secretary; Bill Newman, fisheries technician stationed at the Holdenville Hatchery; and Jeff Pennington, central region wildlife supervisor.
  • The Commission also approved dates for 2013 Commission meetings as follows: Jan.
  • 7, Feb. 4, March 4, April 1, May 6, June 3, July 1, Aug. 5, Sept. 3, Oct. 7, Nov.

Logo courtesy Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

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