Category Archives: Wildlife

Attwater prairie chicken propagation program success does not bode well for lesser prairie chickens

Friday’s Wichita Eagle article on wildlife biologists disagreeing with Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to raise and release lesser prairie chickens gave passing mention to a program that releases pen-raised Attwater’s prairie chickens  on the remnant prairies along the Texas gulf.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ FRIDAY’S ARTICLE.

 

A current plan to raise and release lesser prairie chickens, like these, is drawing criticism, even from Texas biologists releasing Attwater prairie chickens.

A current plan to raise and release lesser prairie chickens, like these, is drawing criticism, even from Texas biologists releasing Attwater prairie chickens.

— Below you’ll find more information gathered from two Texas biologists working with Attwater prairie chickens, one of the most critically endangered species in America.

— A propagation program in Texas for endangered Attwater prairie chickens, a close relative to lesser prairie chickens, costs about $1,000 per released bird, according to Terry Rossignol, Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge manager.

— Mike Morrow, a Texas biologist working with endangered Attwater prairie chickens, said the federal program of raising and releasing the birds is “a last resort” because of high mortality rates and costs.

— In 1900 it was estimated 1 million Attwaters lived across a wide swath of Texas and into Louisiana. By 1937 the population was in the tens of thousands because of loss of habitat. The low was in 2005 when only 40 birds survived, mostly on the Atwatter Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge.

— Since the mid-1990s, 200 to 400 captive-reared Attwaters have been released annually on about 70,000 acres of Texas coastal plain. Mike Morrow, a biologist at the refuge,  said the entire population was at about 100 birds prior to this spring’s releases.
– He also said Kansas lessers probably wouldn’t be as expensive to raise, but added, “ … it’s not going to be cheap.”

 – Morrow said the Fish and Wildlife Service started the Attwater propagation program with captive hens in 1992, when the wild population was about 500 birds, but dropping rapidly. Loss of habitat was a major reason, but they also learned that red imported fire ants, an invasive species, had been outcompeting chicks for the insects needed for food and, in some cases, had been killing the chicks.

—Morrow said the Texas release program has been making improvements over the past several years, and that about 16 percent of young Attwater prairie chickens released live at least one year. Adult birds have an annual mortality rate of about 50 percent.

— Treating areas to kill fire ants seems to be helping survival rates of the Attwaters that are released from six to 12 weeks of age. Some hens have raised broods the year after they were released.

— Still, he would prefer other options.

— “The only reason we’re doing it is because we had no choice. We weren’t raising enough chicks in the wild to sustain the population,” Morrow said. “Ultimately such things are almost always a habitat issue.”

— “Maybe if you get a bump in the population it will make the captive breeding program go away,” said Morrow.

Lesser prairie chicken numbers increase about 20 percent

lesserprairiechickenblog _mp02An aerial survey conducted this spring found that America’s lesser prairie chicken population had increased about 20 percent since the same study area was flown in 2013.

A Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism press release said biologists were estimating  the population at 22,415 birds this year, compared to 18,747 last spring. The 2012 estimate was more than 30,000 birds. Several years of drought has greatly hurt lesser prairie chicken numbers by denying the grouse good nesting areas, safe places to raise chicks and cover from predators through the seasons.

Done during the early spring breeding season, the study only logs adult birds since the year’s chicks have yet to be hatched.

The press release credited good reproduction last year in the mixed grass prairie region of south-central  Kansas and some places in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. Reproduction was down again in the sand-sage prairies of southwestern Kansas and bordering regions in other states because of the drought.

Though it is too early to get a feel for this year’s reproduction, weather systems have dropped some impressive rains across most of the lesser prairie chicken’s range, including part of western Kansas. Some nice broods have been reported earlier in the west-central Kansas region that includes Gove and Logan counties, where some of the state’s best lesser prairie chicken populations thrived before the drought began about three years ago.

lesserprairiechickenblog _mp01This spring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed lesser prairie chickens on their threatened species list. Since, a number of lawsuits have been filed by groups on both sides of the issue. Many agriculture and energy groups want the bird removed from all listing, stating populations only need rains to recover. They also complain the new federal regulations could greatly cripple the ways they do business and greatly hurt the rural economies with those areas.

Some environmental groups are pushing to have the birds upgraded to the endangered list, citing how the population fell by 50 percent during last year’s surveys.

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge to allow deer and turkey hunting, eventually

After about three years of discussions, research and gathering public input, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced limited deer and turkey hunting will be allowed at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

 After about another three years of discussions, research and gathering public input, the first seasons may be held.

A whitetail buck photographed at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge last November.

A whitetail buck photographed at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge last November.

“Very basically, we have the opportunity to put on a deer and/or turkey hunt based on this plan,” Mike Oldham, refuge manager, said of the refuge’s recently approved Comprehensive Conservation Plan. Such plans are designed to give federal refuges management directions over about the next 15 years. Most segments have to undergo a federal approval process, and the public most be given chances to comment at about every stage.

The plan also states that no changes will be made in regards to what parts of the about 22,000 acre refuge can be hunted. Also, the entire refuge will remain closed to all hunting when endangered whooping cranes are present.

As per the deer and turkey, Oldham said Quivira will follow federal guidelines for designing hunting opportunities that should allow for some herd control, offer some recreation for hunters while not interfering with wildlife watchers, photographers and those hunting private lands that border Quivira. He hopes to work closely with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and will not rush into any actions.

“We know we don’t want to start with a big hunt. We want something like where you have to draw a special permit,” Oldham said. “We also probably won’t allow unlimited hunting days. It could be something like where the hunters come for an orientation meeting on Friday, then maybe get to hunt Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday.” Oldham said the hunts, which could start with less than 10 hunters at a time, could include the September’s youth season and the January season that’s held to hunt only antlerless whitetails. Permit numbers and hunting days could expand quickly should the need arise to harvest a significant number of deer, such as because of a disease outbreak.

Dogs training for the 2013 Master NationalDue to long-standing complaints that all hunting has been stopped when whooping cranes are present, the refuge had considered just permanently closing the hunting areas where, or near where, the whooping cranes usually congregate near the Big Salt Marsh. To make up for the loss, Quivira considered opening new areas in the eastern part of the refuge. With such a change, hunting could have possibly been allowed in those areas when whoopers were present elsewhere.

Losing access to the North Lake area, a favored hunting area north of the Big Salt Marsh, didn’t fit well with hunters.

“The vast majority, probably around 80 percent, of the public we heard from asked us to not close North Lake. They said if they had to choose, they’d rather have less hunting time than not get to hunt that area of the refuge,” Oldham said. “We also heard from non-hunters and they all said we shouldn’t do anything that would risk a whooping crane getting shot by leaving all hunting open. We really did take the (public) comments to heart.”

CLICK HERE TO REVIEW THE ENTIRE CONSERVATION 

Video highlights program that creates four-legged game wardens

Since about everybody hates poachers and about everybody loves dogs, this video of the Indiana K-9 Resource Protection Program.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO SEE THE VIDEO.

The video may be from Indiana but it has some close ties to Kansas. The very successful Kansas K-9 program is modeled after what’s been done in Indiana for quite a few years. In fact, the wardens within our program, and their dogs, get much of their training in Indiana. Several other states use the Indiana training program, too.

Kansas’ four-legged game wardens have played key roles in hundreds of cases, ranging from finding key bits of evidence used to help convict poachers to tracking down felons on the run.

Kansas game warden Chris Stout, of Wellington, makes an appearance on the video and furnished the link.

 

Blasts and Casts from hunting with Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas

I wasn’t surprised when I got the text on Sunday morning.  When I saw the name, I was pretty sure it would have a photo of Theresa Vail with a nice tom she’d shot just minutes before.

I was right on both counts. Knowing she didn’t fill her second turkey permit on Saturday’s second, and last, day of the Governor’s Turkey Hunt, I figured she’d be somewhere hunting for at least a while Sunday morning, even though she’d tagged a great bird on Friday.

Our current Miss Kansas really isn’t very good at failure. Then again, that’s not something she’s very familiar with.

Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas, didn't like not getting a turkey on Saturday, so she went out Sunday morning and called one up on her own. COURTESY PHOTO

Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas, didn’t like not getting a turkey on Saturday, so she went out Sunday morning and called one up on her own. COURTESY PHOTO

I’ve met a lot of 23 year-olds in my many more years. Probably none have been as impressive as Vail, for a wide variety of reasons. Obviously she’s very attractive, but that’s well down on her long list of attributes. I mean that very honestly.

Most people know she’s been an honor student majoring in chemistry and Chinese at K-State, while serving in the Kansas Army National Guard. She’s been into boxing, sky-diving, motorcycle riding and serious hunting. It was widely publicized, after she won the Miss Kansas pageant that she did all those things proudly, learned to sing opera off the ‘net for her talent and basically said, “This is who I am,” when she refused to cover her tattoos in the Miss America pageant.

I was blessed to be the first member of the media to really spend some time with Vail in her element.  A few days after she won the Kansas crown we met at a Wichita archery range for an interview and to talk bows and hunting. There was NO doubt the woman was serious about both. When I mentioned the Governor’s Hunt in El Dorado she was very interested and eventually jumped at the chance when an invitation was sent.

I spent Thursday evening, Friday and much of Saturday with Vail and her father, Mark at the hunt. YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ THE STORY ON SUNDAY’S OUTDOORS PAGE, AND SEE A PHOTO GALLERY FROM THEIR HUNT.  Some of the things I learned -

- She’s far more comfortable in hunting boots and camo than anything she’s worn on a runway or other photo shoot.

- She has a great sense of humor, and takes kidding well  but gives it back with just a bit more spice, most times.

- Like most intelligent women, Vail doesn’t like to judged by her looks and her title. She tensed up, but held her tongue, when a man basically suggested someone should help her load a shotgun.

- Don’t tell her she can’t do something unless you want to stand there and watch her do it…especially if you say she can’t do it because of her gender or age.

- You can tell by the way she looks at him that she truly idolizes her dad.

- When she makes a mistake, which doesn’t happen often, she owns it and fixes it with no excuses.

- She’s tough and dedicated. To get her to quit hunting you about have to carry her to the truck, which wouldn’t be easy if she really didn’t want to go. Years of serious physical fitness have her stronger than most men that outweigh her by 40 pounds. She belly crawled when asked to belly crawl and would have waded a deep, cold creek, if we thought it would have gotten her a better chance at a bird.

- She’s pretty strict about her Paleo diet, which basically means she only eats pure, unprocessed meat and the same with fruit and veggies. Ask, and she’ll tell you the many benefits the healthy diet have brought to her. The main one is that she simply feels better and gets better performance from her body. She will always stress that’s it’s not, in any way, to help her lose weight.

- Vail holds a grudge. When a flock of gobblers didn’t come to calls Saturday morning there was no doubt she’d be back, with guide/friend Pat Post, Sunday morning, if even only for a few hours.

- She prefers as much of a challenge as possible. When she and Post returned on Sunday, Vail insisted on doing all the calling, something she’d never done before. Like most of the challenges she’s faced and conquered, she said doing her own calling brought her great pride. She shot the tom at about 20 yards, with a new 3-inch magnum 12 gauge Franchi.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling, to go out and doing all of the calling,” she said. “I was way, way more excited than when I shot my first turkey (called in by Post) Friday morning.  I don’t have any more permits, but I just want to go out and call in some more birds. That was so exciting!”

- She’s excited about going on three elk hunts this fall, to film episodes for her upcoming series, “Limitless,” on the Outdoors Channel. She says she’ll kill an elk. That means out there somewhere, at least one nice bull is enjoying it’s last Rocky Mountain spring. Like I said, Theresa Vail really isn’t very good at failure.

- Finally, to the elderly many from Georgia who repeatedly acted and talked inappropriately to Vail at the Governor’s Hunt, I’d suggest you don’t do it next year when she’s not under Miss Kansas response restrictions. On second thought, go ahead…but make sure I’m there to watch the outcome. :-)

The vultures are back in Marion!

Like has happened every spring for the last several years, the birds have returned!

The annual gathering of turkey vultures in Marion.Friends in the town say they’ve been in the air by the hundreds the past few days, gracefully soaring about, ranging from a few feet above the trees to tiny specks high in the sky.

No, I’m not talking about some silly little swallows or the skinny-legged, geeky-looking over-sized shorebirds that gather along the Platte in Nebraska.

The turkey vultures of Marion County are back!

Last May we ran a fun newspaper feature on how nature’s clean-up crew gathered every evening on the city’s water tower, which sits on the edge of the school grounds, basically at the east edge of the CBD. YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ THE ORIGINAL STORY, AND ACCESS A PHOTO GALLERY WITH 50 PHOTOS.

Friday evening I noticed a gathering of easily 100-plus just around the park on Highway 77, in the north part of El Dorado, so the migration must be getting solid.

Last year I visited Marion around May 9th, and was probably past the peak of the migration according to a friend who lives near the roost.

The annual gathering of turkey vultures in Marion.A few Marion residents were actually appreciative of being able to watch the birds coming in to roost in the evening. Not so much, though, for the guy who had them roosting above his yard.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists lesser prairie chickens as threatened

A male lesser prairie chicken displaying for hens in Edwards County. The species has just been listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A male lesser prairie chicken displaying for hens in Edwards County. The species has just been listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Citing rapid population declines because of loss of habitat and an on-going severe drought over much of the bird’s range, Thursday afternoon the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced they’ve listed lesser prairie chickens on their threatened species list. In fact, populations had dropped by about 50 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to surveys done last spring in Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

A Fish and Wildlife press release estimated the range-wide population to be at about 18,000 birds, of which probably 80 percent, or more, are in Kansas.

“The lesser prairie chicken is in dire straits,” Dan Ashe, Fish and Wildlife director, said in the press release. “Our determination that it warrants listing as a threatened species with a special rule acknowledges the unprecedented partnership efforts and leadership of the five range states for management of the species.” Ashe was referring to an on-going working partnership that’s been formed between the five states, many conservation, ranching and energy groups.

In the past, Robin Jennison, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism secretary, said it was hoped the partnership, and its detailed plans for protecting millions of acres of lesser prairie chicken habitat, would be enough to keep the birds from being listed.

 

Wildlife officials concerned at attempt to revoke Kansas’ endangered species act.

Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism secretary, Robin Jennison, on Thursday spoke with concern about a recent legislative attempt to repeal the Kansas endangered species act. It currently protects about 60 species of assorted Kansas wildlife and has been in place for about 40 years.

At a Topeka Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission meeting, Jennison  said the concept of revoking the endangered species act had been added to House Bill 2118, a bill which removed the red-bellied and smooth earth snakes from the state’s threatened and endangered species lists. Fear of damaging populations of both species has hindered land use in the Kansas City area. Jennison said the even more restrictive amendment had been added Thursday morning, as the bill was being discussed within the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

Sen. Larry Powell, R-Garden City, the committee chairman, added the amendment for total revocation shortly before the bill passed from committee. The bill has already passed the Kansas house and now awaits action in the full Senate.

Jennison already had great concerns with species, especially those endangered or threatened,  being managed by legislative mandates. Currently, he said, only four states do not have endangered species acts.

“Science needs to have some basis in these decisions,” said Jennison, who also warned of possible federal interventions should the state’s endangered species act be revoked.

Powell, who has consistently opposed the department on issues including wildlife habitat improvement, providing more public lands and endangered species, surprised the agency when he made Thursday’s amendment to the existing bill.

Jennison said he would “be shocked” if the existing bill passes through the Senate, but added the bill would certainly have some strong support and needed organized opposition.

“I know there are people in the legislature who think we should not have threatened and endangered species lists,” Jennison said.

Several times Commissioner Don Budd, a Kansas City developer, asked questions about red-bellied and smooth earth snakes, stating the department needed to use caution because their action could trigger more extreme, over-riding action from the legislature.

Jennison insisted the agency should act on what science says is best for a species. Rep. Will Carpenter, R-El Dorado, attended the evening session. Carpenter spent many years as a Wildlife and Parks Commissioner, and agreed with Jennison.

“You guys are in charge of the stewardship of the wildlife of this state,” Carpenter said to the commission. “You’ve got to be the voice.”

Casts and Blasts about feral hog eradication

A few more points of interest to go along with Sunday’s Outdoors page story on how Kansas-based biologists are taking their war against feral swine into parts of northern Oklahoma.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ THE ENTIRE STORY, AND ACCESS THE PHOTO GALLERY.

– Sport hunting for feral hogs has proven to be one of the least effect methods for reducing the population. Such hunting pressure scatters populations and often makes the pigs become nocturnal. Of the 385 feral hogs eradicated at Fort Riley, only 15 were shot by sport hunters, despite several years of hunting.

– -The population of feral hogs in the U.S. is estimated to be at least 5 million animals, of which Texas has about 2.6 million.

– Kansas biologists have seen feral sows with up to about 12 piglets, and most all litters have had at least six piglets. Like domestic swine, feral sows can have two litters per year.

– Within about three generations, domestic pigs turned feral take on the looks of wild swine with smaller hams, bigger shoulders, longer and stronger snouts, longer tusks…

– Some herds of feral pigs date back to the 1500s, when Spanish explorers brought herds of domestic swine for a food source as they explored what’s now the southern U.S.

– The average Kansas adult feral pig weighs about 100 pounds. Some have been documented close to 500 pounds.

– Declines in many kinds of wildlife have been documented when feral hogs invade an area, destroying habitat, competing for food and, at times, eating the eggs of endangered species.

– Biologists  usually suspect illegal releases by humans when a population suddenly appears with several animals, including sows. Most natural colonization by feral hogs is first done by boars.

– Feral hog control biologists annually kill about 20,000 wild pigs in Texas. Some aerial gunning projects have killed up to about 400 in a single day.

– Texas studies indicate each feral pig may be doing about $200 damage to the state’s agricultural practices annually.

– Shotguns with magazines large enough to hold eight to ten rounds, loaded with 00 buckshot are the preferred weapon when shooting from a helicopter. All shooting is done by specially-trained government personnel.

– Dogs have contracted illnesses and died from contacting feral hogs. Some hunters have gotten severely ill from diseases after such contact, and human deaths could be possible.

– In many states, domestic swine have developed diseases when feral hogs come into their area. A wide-spread outbreak of some diseases carried by feral pigs could cause millions of dollars in damages to the domestic pork industry.

– More than 650 Kansas landowners have given U.S.D.A. eradication crews access to more than 1 million acres to eliminate feral swine. The compliance rate of more than 99 -percent is probably the highest in the nation.

– U.S.D.A. biologists in Kansas use some modern tools to help with their war on feral swine. They have used night vision equipment to look for nocturnal herds. Recently, they’ve used cameras in traps that contact the biologist when something is within the trap area, and shows the biologists how many hogs are in the enclosure. The biologist can then push a button on his phone and the gate closes.

Source – Curran Salter, Mike Bodenchuk and Tom Berding

 

Video shows locked-antlered buck saved by Wichita hunter/Another by Pratt County Students

CLICK HERE TO ALSO READ AND SEE how Pratt Community College instructor Luke Laha, and his students, also worked to free a whitetail buck that had been locked with another for up to two months.

————————————————————————————–

Evan McAnally spent days afield last deer season, as much to gather good video as to eventually put venison in his freezer.

But it was weeks after the season and McAnally, of Wichita, didn’t have his regular video camera along when he got footage of “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

On Feb. 10 the 29-year-old used his cell phone to video himself freeing a trophy-class nine-point buck that had locked antlers with another nine-pointer several days earlier. Coyotes, it appeared, had already eaten the other buck down to its skeleton. McAnally could have left and come back a few days later, after the coyotes probably would have returned to eat the second buck alive, and the avid bowhunter could have had both sets of antlers for his wall. He said that wasn’t an option.

“We’re hunters, not cold-blooded killers,” he said. “I hunt to harvest an animal to eat, and to share a connection with the wildlife.” McAnally , who bow-killed a 24-point buck in November, added the thousands of hours he’s spent afield scouting, videoing and hunting whitetail bucks has also given him a deep respect for the animals.

“It was quite the sight, what that one buck had endured,” said McAnally, “and I tried to put into perspective what that deer had already gone through, being locked with the other buck and then the coyotes eating it right there. I really wanted to free it if I could.”

McAnally had driven 90 minutes to a family-owned pasture in Stafford County to check on his remote trail cameras and put out some food for deer and assorted birds.  He was walking across the brushy pasture when he saw antlers on the ground. A closer looked showed it was two sets of antlers locked together. To one set he saw the mostly eaten remains of a buck, to the other he thought he saw the complete body of a dead buck. Then, that “dead” buck stood up as McAnally walked near, and the deer began walking away, dragging his dead combatant slowly along.

Whitetail bucks often put their antlers together for light sparring matches, or sometimes in full-fledged fights. Occasionally they push with enough force that antler tines (points) from the two bucks bend enough to become interlocked. Most such fights happen during the November breeding season, as bucks battle over a doe. “I’m not sure if there was a doe coming into late estrous or what happened,” McAnally said. “Something had them really going at it.” He also finds it unique that the antlers withstood such pressure at a time of year when antlers are naturally falling off must bucks so another set can begin growing.

McAnally recognized both bucks from his trail cameras, which are left in the field and triggered by motion. The dead buck had lived on the property for at least three years. The live buck had shown-up during the past season. The bucks were last seen independently on trail cameras on Feb. 2. “They easily could have been locked like that for five or six days,” McAnally said. “You could tell by the looks of things it had been a while.”

Rather than call his cousin, Heath Getty, for assistance, McAnally decided to not waste any time getting the live buck untangled. He set his cell phone in the branches of a plum bush and went to the rescue.

“I spent a lot of the 30 minutes just easing in, trying to keep the buck calm,” McAnally said. “It kind of kept pulling away and I kept kind of talking softly and petting its neck a bit. I’m not sure if that really helped.”

After trying to free the locked antlers with his hands, McAnally walked back to his truck and returned with a saw and cut one antler tine from the live buck and two from the dead buck. Not realizing what had happened, the live buck kept his head down until McAnally lifted its antlers a bit so it could feel that it was free. That left McAnally a bit nervous, wondering if the buck might charge him. It didn’t.

“It kind of stomped the dead buck a couple of times, backed up and then took off,” he said. “You could tell it was kind of week and off balance, but that’s probably because of all it had been through for several days.”

As he was leaving the property later, McAnally saw the buck about 300 yards from where it had been freed, walking towards a creek for water. “I’m pretty sure he made it,” McAnally said. “He was kind of gaunt, but he was really in pretty good shape. I hope I see him again this fall when I’m out hunting.” If he does, McAnally said he probably won’t reach for his bow.

“I don’t think I could shoot him,” he said. “We kind of have a connection.”