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Lesser Prairie-chicken range-wide plan reports successful second year

 

On March 31, 2016, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) its second annual report, detailing achievements of the Lesser Prairie-chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan (LPRCP). Highlights include the estimated 25 percent increase in the range-wide lesser prairie-chicken  population to just over 29,000 birds, the nearly $51 million in fees committed by industry partners to pay for mitigation actions, and the more than 67,000 acres of habitat landowners across the range have agreed to conserve.

 

The range-wide plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and the state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. It was developed to ensure conservation of the lesser prairie-chicken with voluntary cooperation from landowners and industry. This plan allows agriculture producers and industry to continue operations while reducing impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat.

 

“Conservation of the lesser Prairie-chicken is a long-haul proposition,” said Alexa Sandoval, director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and chairman of the Lesser Prairie-chicken Initiative (LCPI) Council. “We’re encouraged that after just two years of implementation, we have so many positive indicators that the range-wide plan is working. We commend all of our partners for their commitment to conservation of this iconic grassland species.”

 

The plan was endorsed by the USFWS, and as part of the conservation agreement, the states agreed to report progress annually. The findings for 2015 are summarized below.

 

Lesser Prairie-chicken Population Up

The 2015 range-wide aerial survey documented a 25 percent increase in the lesser prairie-chicken population to an estimated total of 29,162 birds. This increase is attributed to an abundance of rainfall in spring 2015, along with ongoing range-wide plan conservation initiatives. Aerial surveys for 2016 are underway and will run through mid-May. Results are anticipated in early July.

 

Land Conservation Efforts Increasing

Substantial progress was made on private land conservation across the lesser prairie-chicken’s range. Eight landowner contracts were finalized, encompassing 67,512 acres. Conservation measures are being implemented range-wide, including habitat restoration on 8,214 of 15,911 prescribed acres. And a total of $1,821,737 was paid to landowners managing their lands to generate credits for lesser prairie-chicken conservation. In addition, WAFWA acquired title to a 1,604-acre tract of native rangeland in west Texas, near the Yoakum Dunes Wildlife Management Area last June.

 

Technology Enhances Conservation Decision Making

Scientists are using the latest technology to designate where and how conservation actions should be implemented for the greatest benefit. The Southern Great Plains Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool enhances the existing Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT) program administered by WAFWA. It identifies focal areas and connectivity zones where lesser prairie-chicken conservation actions will be emphasized. A project estimator tool unique to CHAT was designed to encourage companies to implement more effective pre-planning development efforts and it worked. These enhancements have resulted in 5,066 instances of access to CHAT, with an average of 145 users per week.

 

Cooperative Efforts Enhancing Conservation

Working with conservation partners, programs and cooperative efforts are expanding voluntary landowner incentives and practices to benefit the birds. For example, the Natural Resource Conservation Service has incorporated CHAT elements into the ranking criteria for projects being considered under the Lesser Prairie-chicken Initiative. Using CHAT, prescribed grazing practices were applied on 179,805 acres through the Lesser Prairie-chicken Initiative in 2015. These combined efforts have resulted in nearly 250,000 acres being conserved for the benefit of the lesser prairie-chicken.

 

Mitigation Efforts Positively Impact Development Decisions

One of the major components of the range-wide plan involves working with industry to avoid and minimize impacts of development activities. The WAFWA mitigation framework can be used by any entity. In 2015, there were several industries participating, including oil and gas, pipeline, electric, wind energy and telecommunications. During this past year, 177 companies enrolled in WAFWA conservation agreements. WAFWA collected $11,843,403 in fees in 2015, bringing the program total to $50,800,884, which will offset unavoidable impacts at off-site mitigation locations. In 2015, 409 project agreements were authorized, assessing development costs tied to the quality of habitat being impacted. After two years of implementation, a review of all the projects assessed shows that the mean cost was $11,936 per project, varying by ecoregion. WAFWA has documented that these mitigation costs are positively impacting development decisions and participants are actively selecting areas with low quality habitat.

 

Listening and Learning Informs All Conservation Decisions

Successful collaborative efforts require vigilance and commitment to considering all input. Through the Lesser Prairie-chicken  Advisory Committee, WAFWA has been receptive to input from all stakeholders, including industry, non-governmental organizations, state and federal agencies, landowners and the general public. The LPCI Council has developed an adaptive management framework incorporating monitoring and new information to make adjustments as needed, maximizing conservation benefits to the lesser prairie-chicken.

 

Full details are available in the WAFWA annual report at www.wafwa.org

 

The right to hunt, fish and trap heads to November ballot

 

On March 17th, House Concurrent Resolution 5008, the Right to Hunt, Fish and Trap Wildlife, was unanimously passed by the Kansas Senate—meaning, this November, Kansans will have the opportunity to vote on this state constitutional amendment to create permanent protections for sportsmen and conservation.  The Right to Hunt, Fish and Trap Wildlife ensures that wildlife conservation and management decisions continue to be based on sound science in order to preserve Kansas’ hunting heritage for generations to come and to protect it against future attacks from well-funded, anti-hunting organizations.

 

HCR 5008 proposes an amendment to the Kansas Constitution that will affirm that it is a right of the public to hunt, fish, and trap as such:

 

The people have the right to hunt, fish and trap, including by the use of traditional methods, subject to reasonable laws and regulations that promote wildlife conservation and management and that preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights or water resources.

 

Hunting, fishing, and trapping are not only cherished American traditions, but paired with science, are an integral part of wildlife management and conservation.  This year alone, Kansas received $12,833,780 of Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Funds thanks to

excise taxes paid by Kansas sportsmen and women on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment.  Pittman-Robertson funds fuel important conservation efforts such as the acquisition and improvement of wildlife habitat, wildlife species introduction, wildlife research, public access programs, and hunter education programs.  Furthermore, sportsmen and women are an essential part of the Kansas economy.  According to the latest data, they spend more than $629 million annually and support 9,331 jobs.

 

Misguided extremists have been trying for decades to incrementally or outright ban hunting, fishing, and trapping.  Now is the time to safeguard your outdoor heritage.

Small towns Readers’ Choice semi-finalists named

 

In January, KANSAS! Magazine asked readers to nominate their favorite small town for the second annual Readers’ Choice edition. Over the last two months, entries have poured in from across the nation, and 129 communities were nominated.

 

The 15 small towns with the most nominations have been named as semi-finalists, and they are Atwood, Chapman, Clearwater, Council Grove, Greensburg, Inman, Lecompton, Lindsborg, Little River, Lucas, Marysville, Norton, Scott City, Seneca, and Wamego.

 

To vote for the finalists, visit KANSAS! magazine’s Facebook page and click the Vote tab, or go to www.kansasmag.com. Votes can be entered once daily through May 31st. The final five small towns will be unveiled with the winter issue of KANSAS! in November.

KDWPT and KS BASS Nation recognized for fish habitat improvements

 

The Kansas BASS Nation (KBN) has been working with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism (KDWPT) to place artificial fish attractors in local waters in an effort to improve fish habitat and increase angler success. KBN Conservation Director Jesse Jordan and KDWPT Fisheries program specialist David Breth, who oversee the program, set a goal to assemble and place 300 PVC and tubing structures called “Georgia Cubes” in 2015. They not only met that goal, but are currently working towards tripling that number. Three-hundred additional cubes are already on the ground and will be placed in the coming months.

 

“Local B.A.S.S. clubs have been instrumental in this project, assembling the cubes from kits onsite, and then placing them using their own boats and GPS units,” Breth said. “They’ve been a great help.” In addition to the KBN, KDWPT has also received assistance from The Bass Federation and several local organizations throughout the state.

 

Not only have their efforts caught the attention of anglers, some of whom have already reported catching largemouth bass near the structures, but they’ve also garnered national recognition from

The Berkley Conservation Institute (BCI), of Berkley Fishing. On March 5, Jordan accepted an award from BCI on behalf of KBN and their partnership with KDWPT.

 

Modeled after a design originally implemented by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the cube-like structures are comprised of a four-foot-by-four-foot-by-three-foot PVC frame. This is woven with more than 50 feet of corrugated pipe, maximizing surface area for the growth of periphyton, a mix of algae, fungi and bacteria, which attracts invertebrates and small fish, which then draw bass and other predator species. Not only are the cubes cost-effective, but they last more than three times longer than natural brush piles; and based on their use in other states, attract as many fish as natural cover without affecting water quality.

 

Kansas licenses fees and federal funds from the Sport Fish Restoration Program have financed the components used to assemble the cubes, but Breth said that without the help of Kansas B.A.S.S. Nation affiliated clubs, the placement process would be much slower.

 

To date, cubes have been added to Milford, Wilson, Melvern, Perry, El Dorado, Tuttle Creek, and Horsethief reservoirs; as well as Butler, Clark, Pottawatomie No. 1, Pottawatomie No. 2, and Meade state fishing lakes. They have also been placed in Yates Center’s South Owl and Eureka City lakes. Fisheries field staff will collect sonar and video images on how fish populations and species are using the cubes in relation to natural structures

 

For information on how to locate these attractors, as well as access locations of natural structures, visit www.ksoutdoors.com and click “Fishing,” then “Where to Fish in Kansas.”

Artificial walleye spawning produces real results

 

Maintaining healthy fish populations across the state that meet the desires of today’s anglers and fit within budget restraints is no easy feat, but Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) Fisheries Division staff thrive in the face of this challenge. Walleye are popular with anglers, but few lakes in Kansas provide the necessary elements for adequate natural reproduction. The answer? Artificial spawning.

 

Every year about this time, fisheries biologists can be seen working tirelessly at select Kansas lakes, setting nets to capture spawning walleye. Eggs of ripe females are collected, and then taken to a station where they are fertilized with milt, or sperm, taken from male walleyes caught from the same body of water. After fertilization, the eggs are immediately delivered to the Pratt and Milford fish hatcheries where fish culturists work around the clock to ensure high hatch and survival rates of young walleye, which are then stocked into Kansas lakes as fry, or raised to a larger size for stocking. Sauger are also produced to ensure a supply of sauger males. Some walleye eggs are fertilized with sauger milt to create the saugeye, a popular hybrid.

 

Last year, the KDWPT Walleye Culture Program harvested nearly 100 million walleye eggs and produced the following for Kansas waters:

 

WALLEYE

-38 million walleye fry

-580,000 walleye fingerlings

-6,500 walleye intermediates

 

SAUGER

-2.7 million sauger fry

-More than 20,000 sauger fingerlings

 

SAUGEYE

-More than 6 million saugeye fry

-Approximately 310,000 fingerlings

 

This year, staff hope to harvest more than 100 million eggs and increase walleye production to stock 48 million walleye fry, and 1.2 million walleye fingerlings.

 

It’s hard to believe walleye would need any assistance in producing young of their own, especially since large females can produce upwards of 300,000 eggs, but research has shown less than 10 percent of naturally-spawned walleye eggs will successfully hatch. Thanks to the efforts of KDWPT’s hatchery staff, hatch rates can be as high as 70 percent in a controlled setting.

 

In addition to walleye, KDWPT hatcheries also produce bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, redear sunfish, sauger, saugeye, smallmouth bass, striped bass, and wipers.

 

For more information on KDWPT hatcheries and the fish they produce, visit www.ksoutdoors.com and click “Fishing/Hatcheries.” 

Aerial surveys monitor Lesser Prairie-chicken population trends

 

According to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAWFA), aerial surveys for lesser prairie chickens will begin March 17. The surveys, which will continue through mid-May, will be conducted by helicopter throughout the five-state lesser prairie chicken range. The surveys are conducted annually by WAFWA to ascertain population trends and how the bird is responding to management strategies identified in theLesser Prairie Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan.

 

The range-wide plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and the state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. It was developed to ensure conservation of the lesser prairie chicken with voluntary cooperation from landowners and industry. This plan allows agriculture producers and industry to continue operations while reducing impacts to the species and its grassland habitat.

 

“Working with the wildlife agencies of each of these five states, we’ve established a consistent methodology to conduct these aerial surveys,” explained Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA’s grassland coordinator. “This allows us to get the most accurate information possible so we can see how various management strategies for the bird are working on the ground.”

 

 

In previous years, some of the fly paths prompted calls, which is why WAFWA is getting the word out about the start of aerial survey work.

 

Last year’s aerial surveys brought good news: an abundance of spring rainfall in 2015, along with ongoing efforts associated with the range-wide plan and other conservation initiatives, helped increase the lesser prairie chicken population by approximately 25 percent from 2014 to 2015. Results from this year’s surveys will be available on July 1.

 

Despite last year’s encouraging news, the population is still low compared to historical numbers, and concern for the lesser prairie chicken and its habitat still exist. WAFWA is committed to continued successful implementation of the range-wide plan and the long-term recovery of this iconic grassland bird.

 

For more information about the lesser prairie chicken and the conservation work being done to support it, see the Lesser Prairie Chicken Range-wide Plan at www.wafwa.org.

Land and Water Conservation grants improve communities

 

Does a park in your neighborhood need a new playground? Has your community been waiting for the right time to put in a new picnic shelter, ball fields or a dog park? Now, with the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCF), the time is right to make those projects happen.

 

LWCF grants have provided funding for more than 700 outdoor recreation projects throughout Kansas since its inception in 1965. Kansas has received more than $50 million that has helped create and enhance outdoor recreation opportunities in almost every county.

 

Grants require 50 percent matches, and properties where grants are used must remain in pubic recreational use for perpetuity. Grants are available to cities, counties, school districts and other government entities. Funding is administered by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, through the National Park Service.

 

The application deadline is April 15, 2016, and competition for grants is intense, so it’s important that applications be accurately and thoroughly completed. To learn more about the application process and to download an application, go to ksoutdoors.com/KDWPT-Info/Grants.

New partnership provides landowner assistance in range health improvements

 

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, in cooperation with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Ranchland Trust of Kansas, and Kansas Grazing Coalition, are excited to announce a new partnership designed to assist landowners with range management and improvement projects. Termed the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), the newly-formed partnership will aim to improve overall range health in the Smoky Hills region of Kansas by providing cost-share assistance to landowners. The Smoky Hills are important to cattle producers and numerous wildlife species, but both are being threatened by invasive trees, noxious weeds and other sources of degradation. The RCPP seeks to address some of these issues and ultimately improve the health of Smoky Hill rangelands.

 

The RCPP will focus on 16 counties within the core of the Smoky Hills, with wildlife biologists designated for specific areas. Some land management practices that will be available for cost share under this collaborative effort include brush management, herbaceous weed control, prescribed burning and prescribed grazing. Landowners interested in more information about this partnership are encouraged to contact their local wildlife biologist for the county in which their land is located.

 

For counties Ellsworth, Russell, Lincoln, Saline, and Ottawa, contact James Svaty at (785) 658-2465 ext. 204. For counties Smith, Osborne, Jewell, Mitchell, Republic, and Cloud, contact Lucas Kramer at (785) 545-3345. For counties Washington, Clay, and Dickinson, contact Clint Thornton at (785) 461-5095. For Marion County, contact Jeff Rue at (316) 772-2706. For McPherson County, contact Kyle McDonald at (620) 662-2799.

Become a Certified Angler Instructor

 

Most of us have had a mentor at some point in our lives who inspired us, taught us, and delighted in our successes. It’s a wonderful thing, but not everyone is so lucky, especially when it comes to having an outdoor mentor. By becoming a volunteer certified angler instructor through the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s Angler Education program, you’ll not only have an avenue for sharing your passion for angling with others, but you too, could be someone’s mentor. To get you started, a certification course will be held from 9:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. on Feb. 20 at Flint Hills Technical College, 3301 W 18th Ave., Emporia, in conference rooms A, B, and C. There is no cost to participate.

 

Topics covered will include current fishing regulations, species identification, fishing ethics, equipment, knot-tying, casting, fish habitat, aquatic nuisance species, and conservation practices. In addition to becoming certified, anglers will also receive sample curriculums and tips for preparing a class.

 

To register for this class, and to learn more, visit fishingsfuture.org/node/459/register or contact Phil Taunton at (620) 794-5373 or by e-mail at ptaunton7@gmail.com.

 

Participants must be 18 years old and pass a background check.

Learn to burn at Feb. 11 Prescribed Burning workshop

 

If you’re interested in learning how you can incorporate prescribed burning into your land management practices, attend the Prescribed Burn Workshop in Harper County on Thursday, Feb. 11. The one-day class will be held at the Harper County Fair Barn, 128 E 9th St., and begin at 10 a.m. There is a $10 registration fee, which includes a class workbook and lunch.

 

Information presented will include topics such as reasons to burn, burning for wildlife promotion, fire behavior, regulations and permits, planning and conducting a burn, Conservation Reserve Program rules, safety, weather issues, liability, and how to design your own burn plan.

 

For more information, and to register, call (620) 842-5445 or email jlcarr@ksu.edu by Feb. 1.