State Issues

Lesser Prairie-chicken numbers increase again



The Lesser Prairie-chicken population increased approximately 25 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to the recent range-wide aerial survey. Wildlife biologists with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) attribute the increase to abundant spring rainfall and ongoing efforts associated with the Lesser Prairie-chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan.

Increases were observed in three of the four ecoregions across five states – Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas – where the species exists. The Sandsage Prairie Region of southeast Colorado showed the biggest gain – approximately 75 percent from a year ago. The Mixed Grass Prairie Region of the northeast Panhandle of Texas, northwest Oklahoma and southcentral Kansas showed an increase of approximately 30 percent, and the population in the Shortgrass Prairie Region of northwest Kansas grew by about 27 percent.

“An overall 25 percent increase in the Lesser Prairie-chicken population across its five-state range is welcome news,” said Ross Melinchuk, chairman of WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie-chicken Initiative Council. “This year’s increase, on the heels of last year’s 20 percent increase, is evidence of the species’ ability to rapidly recover from downturns resulting from drought and poor range condition. With continued improvement in nesting and brood-rearing habitat associated with abundant rainfall and private landowner actions to conserve and restore their habitat, we are optimistic the species will recover to historic population levels.”

The only ecoregion with a continued downward population trend is the Shinnery Oak ecoregion of eastern New Mexico and western Texas. This ecoregion is still recovering from a prolonged period of drought. However, recent roadside surveys indicate Lesser Prairie-chickens in this area are starting to respond to rainfall that occurred in late 2014 and early 2015.

“We’re confident that with continued moisture and drought relief, next year’s Shinnery Oak populations should continue to recover,” said Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA grassland coordinator.

The nonprofit WAFWA is coordinating efforts established under the Lesser Prairie-chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan, which is an initiative designed to engage private landowners and industry to conserve Lesser Prairie-chicken habitat and minimize impacts to the species. To date, industry partners have committed $46 million in enrollment fees to pay for mitigation actions, and landowners across the range have agreed to conserve nearly 100,000 acres of habitat through 10-year and permanent conservation agreements.

Companies, landowners, farmers and ranchers may still enroll in the range-wide plan and receive regulatory assurances that their operations can continue under an accompanying Certificate of Participation. Participating companies can continue operations under certain restrictions while providing funds to conserve Prairie-chicken habitat. To date, about 180 oil, gas, wind, electric and pipeline companies have enrolled about 11 million acres across the five states. Enrollment fees are deposited with WAFWA and administered to fund conservation efforts by private landowners to benefit the Lesser Prairie-chicken.

The Lesser Prairie-chicken was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in May 2014. The final listing rule allowed private industry to develop and impact habitat if enrolled and participating in WAFWA’s range-wide plan, and it also provided various options that landowners can use to receive similar coverage. The range-wide plan provides incentives for landowners and industry to protect and restore habitat, which is important because they control much of the species’ range.

Organized in 1922, WAFWA represents 23 states and Canadian provinces, from Alaska to Texas and Saskatchewan to Hawaii – an area covering nearly 3.7 million square miles of some of North America’s most wild and scenic country, inhabited by more than 1,500 premier wildlife species.

More information, including the range-wide plan, is available on the WAFWA website at

NRCS announces $235 million available for innovative new conservation partnerships

Local Partners Can Now Apply for Second Round of Funding to Improve Soil Health, Preserve Clean Water, Combat Drought, and Protect Wildlife Habitat

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced an investment of up to $235 million to improve the nation’s water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat, and protect agricultural viability. The funding is being made available through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), the newest conservation tool of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS is now accepting pre-proposals for the second round of funding for RCPP. The deadline is July 8, 2015.

Through RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve natural resources on private lands. For proposals in Kansas, resource priorities include fish and wildlife habitat, plant condition, soil health, water quantity, and water quality.

RCPP, created by the 2014 Farm Bill, empowers local leaders to work with multiple partners—such as private companies, local and tribal governments, universities, non-profit groups and other non-government partners—along with farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to design solutions that work best for their region. Local partners and the federal government both invest funding and manpower into projects to maximize their impact. The RCPP program helps USDA build on an already record enrollment in conservation programs, with over 500,000 producers participating to protect land and water on over 400 million acres nationwide.

“This is a new, innovative approach to conservation,” said Kansas NRCS State Conservationist Eric B. Banks. “RCPP allows local partners the opportunity to design and invest in conservation projects specifically tailored for the resource concerns here in Kansas. These partnership efforts keep our land and water clean, and promote tremendous economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism, and other industries. We encourage partners to visit NRCS about any questions they may have regarding RCPP.”

For more information on applying, visit the RCPP website. To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit or local USDA service center. For more on the 2014 Farm Bill, visit

$1.1 Billion from Pittman Robertson-Dingell Johnson funding

From The Birding Wire

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will distribute $1.1 billion in revenues generated by the hunting and angling industry to state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies throughout the nation. The funds support critical fish and wildlife conservation and recreation projects that benefit all Americans.

The Service apportions the funds to all 50 states and U.S. territories through the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration programs. Revenues come from excise taxes generated by the sale of sporting firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing equipment, electric boat motors, and from taxes on the purchase of motorboat fuel.

Sport Fish & Wildlife Restoration

“These funds are the cornerstone of state-based efforts that are critical to the preservation of America’s wildlife and natural resources,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “But they are also the fuel for a massive financial engine that benefits outdoor recreationists, hunters, boaters and anglers, equipment manufacturers and retailers, and local and regional economies. Their value cannot be overstated in providing opportunities for the next generation of Americans to get outdoors, experience our wild places and learn the importance of conserving our natural heritage.”

Pittman Robertson-Dingell Johnson funds are distributed by the Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program. Since their inception, the programs have generated more than $15 billion to conserve fish and wildlife resources and support outdoor recreation opportunities for the American public. The recipient State fish and wildlife agencies have matched these funds with more than $5 billion over the years, mostly through hunting and fishing license revenues.

“The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program provides critical funding for conservation projects and outdoor recreation activities across this great nation,” said Assistant Director Hannibal Bolton of the Service’s WSFR program. “I can’t stress enough that the key to the program’s success is through our dedicated partnerships with State agencies, non-government organizations and many others.”

“It is thanks to this significant financial investment made by America’s sportsmen and women and the hunting, shooting sports, angling and boating industries that state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies can deliver science-based conservation on the ground,” said Larry Voyles, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies President and Arizona Game and Fish Department Director. “The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program has made the difference between the survival and abundance of some species and it helps agencies, like mine, manage a vast estate of lands and waters and connect more people to wildlife-related recreation.”

Below is a listing of surrounding states of the Service’s final apportionment of Wildlife Restoration Funds and Sport Fish Restoration funds for Fiscal Year 2015. To learn more about the Service’s WSFR program visit:

State                            Apportionment

ARKANSAS               $19,403,525

COLORADO              $28,516,034

IOWA                          $16,502,569

KANSAS                  $19,984,814

MISSOURI                 $29,783,609

NEBRASKA                $17,608,725

NEW MEXICO           $22,125,164

OKLAHOMA              $25,729,133

Avoid landscaping with invasive tree species

Homeowners can help conservation by wisely choosing native trees and shrubs to plant this spring. Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) foresters suggest that native trees can provide showy blooms in spring while also boosting butterflies and wildlife. Non-native trees are generally less beneficial, and some oft-planted ornamentals, such as Bradford pear, have become invasive and harmful to natural areas.

Downy serviceberry is an early blooming native tree that grows well in ornamental settings. Serviceberry is covered with white flowers in early April. The trees grow well in home landscape plantings and produce red berries that are edible by birds and people, said Wendy Sangster, MDC urban forester.

Other native choices include dogwood, yellowwood, redbud, blackhaw viburnum, hophornbeam and chokecherry. The venerable redbud tree blushes with lavish lavender flowers in spring, grows quickly and provides shade. Wild plum provides delicate white flowers for yards where a small tree fits landscape design. Dogwood trees, an Ozark native with classic four-petal white flowers, will grow in Kansas City if planted in partial shade.

Native plants and trees are a desirable part of nature’s food chain that attracts watchable wildlife. Insects evolved with natives. Those insects, such as butterfly caterpillars, provide food for birds. A native tree is essentially a living, summer time, backyard bird feeder.

Non-native trees support far fewer insects. But they also pose problems for wild areas valued for native plants on private and public lands. Bradford pears, for example, have been often planted as ornamentals in the past because they provide white blooms in spring and experts formerly considered them safe. They are hybrids and it was believed they could not produce viable seed. But a varied mix of cultivars allowed some Bradford pears to cross pollinate and produce viable seed. Those seeds are spread by birds into natural areas. Bradford pears are a Callery pear cultivar. The cultivars from Asia compete well because they leaf out early and crowds out valuable native species. Bradford pears are also poor landscaping choices because they are not strong and limbs break easily in storms, Sangster said.

MDC offers information about home landscape trees that help people and wildlife at

The Heartland Tree Alliance, an MDC partner, provides information about trees that do well in the Kansas City area at A useful source for information about native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees is available at

The right tree in the right place is important because trees provide shade, clean air and wildlife habitat, Sangster said. Extra care in planting trees keeps both the urban forest and wild lands healthy.

Editor’s note: Foresters from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) suggest that native trees can provide ample attractive blooms in spring while also attracting butterflies and bird species, but to avoid planting non-native trees such as Bradford pear that have become invasive and harmful to natural areas.

Who owns that deer?

Does proposed Kansas law overturn North American Model of Conservation?

By Tony Hansen

Brow Tines and Backstrap

Who owns the deer that live in the United States?

How about the deer that live in your state?

Let’s narrow it down a bit more. Who owns the deer that live in your county? How about on the land that you own?

To me, the answer is always the same: We own those deer. All of us.

See, I’m a student of the North American Conservation Model, which states that wildlife resources are held in a public trust, meaning wildlife is not “owned” by anyone. It’s a resource that belongs to all of us.

From a macro level, I suspect all who read this would agree. The whitetail population we so cherish in this country is a national resource owned by all Americans.

I suspect we tend to agree at the state level, as well. As a Michigan resident, I’ve heard plenty of talk about “our” deer herd.

But what happens when you talk about the deer on your land? Deer that walk by your trail cameras, that you glass from your treestand?

Does the fact that those deer live on land you own change your view of “ownership?”

I found myself thinking hard about that question while reading a report about a proposed law in Kansas that would require the state to turn over animal parts – including antlers – of animals poached off private land to the landowners.

Currently, any deer poached in Kansas becomes property of the state.

But one Kansas landowner is pushing hard to see that law changed, and he’s getting support from state lawmakers.

In November of 2011, Kansas resident David Kent spotted several deer in the headlights of his truck. He pulled out a 9mm handgun and fired two shots. One of the deer fell. He decapitated the animal, tossed the head in the back of his truck, and then attempted to pass off the buck as a legal kill.

The deer would have been a new state record typical, taping nearly 200 inches as a 7×7.

Kent, according to his statement to Kansas wildlife officers, killed the deer on – or very near – land owned by the mother of Timothy Nedeau.

Nedeau believes that because the deer was allegedly killed on land owned by his mother, he was not only entitled to the $8,000 in state-ordered restitution paid by Kent but also was entitled to the buck’s antlers.

There are all sorts of back-story to this tale, and there is now confusion as to whether the buck was actually killed while standing on land owned by Nadeau’s mother or whether it was on a neighboring parcel.

None of that really matters here. What matters is this: The Kansas House passed a bill that would require the state to turn antlers and other animal parts over to the landowner of the land where the animal was poached. If passed by the Senate and signed by the Governor, it would become law.

Which gives me pause.

The antlers of that poached buck likely carry a high level of value. I have no idea what a state record typical rack might be worth, but it’s safe to say it would be worth thousands.

Because a trophy-class animal spends time on a landowner’s property, does that mean the animal now “belongs” to that landowner if it’s killed illegally?

If a law is passed stating that poached bucks killed on their land must be turned over to them, does that not signify those deer are the “property” of the landowner?

There is a model in which landowners own the land and the critters that live on it. It’s called the European model. And it’s all about the privatization of wildlife… about controlling who can hunt and who can’t.

In short, it is everything the North American model is not. And that is something to think about.

Embracing prairie burning

By Brad Guhr

Dyck Arboretum

An important disturbance mechanism for prairie ecosystem health, a restoration ritual that connects a Kansan to its native landscape, and a series of sights, sounds and smells that both comforts and stirs heightened senses – prairie burning in the spring represents all these things to me.

Burning 1

Ever since participating in my first prairie burns during graduate school in Wisconsin, where I was trained to safely conduct prescribed burns, I have held a great reverence and respect for this process of igniting the prairie. Prairies and a whole array of plants and animals became adapted to semi-regular lightning-set fires on the Central North American Plains since the last ice age approximately 10,000 years ago.

In the last couple of thousand years, humans have also been important vectors for bringing fire to the prairie and helping determine its geographic extent on the landscape. Native Americans used fire to clear safe zones for lodging, attract or direct wildlife for food, and celebrate cultural rituals. Their actions helped extend prairie further east into areas that have since reverted back to oak-hickory forests, as the Native American presence and their fire rituals were extinguished. European ranchers on the Plains hold a similar respect for fire and use it to help fatten cattle and control invading woody plants that would eventually shade out prairie grasses.

Burning 3

Prairie fires in Kansas have been met with resistance. Increased human habitation and careless use of fire in untamed wild places puts residences more at risk and created an understandable fear of fire. Air quality problems affecting human health, due mostly to automobiles, power generation and industry in major metropolitan areas like Kansas City and most recently Wichita, are certainly not helped by spring prairie burns. Wildlife managers can cite that annual prairie burns in the Flint Hills have become too frequent for the success of grassland birds, including greater prairie chickens that require some residual cover for adequate foraging and nesting success.

Kansas has a rich history intertwined with the prairie and Kansans embrace prairie as an important part of our cultural and natural history, our recreation through eco-tourism (state park use, hunting, fishing, birding, hiking, etc.) and our economy (ranching). Where prairie has been removed, it has left behind a legacy of some of the best agricultural soils in the world. While mowing does provide some of the benefits of fire, it does not provide all of them, and is more costly and time-consuming. We must find ways to utilize and implement prairie burning with greater safety, intelligence, and purpose.

Simply put, a culture that values prairie must also value fire.

Burning 2

FWS declares northern long-eared bat ‘threatened’

Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter

The Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will list the northern long-eared bat as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, a lower level of protection than it originally proposed for the imperiled species.

The agency also approved a rule to provide flexibility for forest managers and landowners by allowing for the incidental killing or harming of long-eared bats during the course of forest management activities, known as a 4(d) rule.

The move was panned by environmentalists, who favored listing the bat as endangered and are likely to challenge the decision in court. It received mixed reviews from industry groups.

The threatened listing and interim 4(d) rule will both be implemented on May 4. But FWS will continue to take comment on the rule until July 1 and plans to finalize it in some form by the end of the calendar year.

“Bats are a critical component of our nation’s ecology and economy, maintaining a fragile insect predator-prey balance; we lose them at our peril,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe. “The alternative to bats is greater pesticide use, which brings with it another set of ecological concerns.”

Northern long-eared bat populations in Eastern states have plummeted by more than 90 percent since the discovery in 2006 of white-nose syndrome, which the listing said is the primary threat to the species. As of 2014, the deadly fungal disease had spread to the District of Columbia and 28 of the 37 states in which the species is found.

After initially proposing an endangered listing for the species in October 2013, Fish and Wildlife determined that the bat is not endangered because the syndrome has not yet spread throughout its range. Furthermore, it said, bat populations in areas unaffected by the disease appear to be stable.

In areas not affected by the syndrome yet, all incidental harassment, harming or killing of bats — actions collectively referred to as “take” — will be allowed.

In states where bats are infected with the disease, the range of activities exempted from prohibitions on take is more limited. The 4(d) rule will only protect forestry management practices, maintenance and limited expansion of transmission and utility rights of way, prairie habitat management, and the removal of hazardous trees and others that are not used by the bats.

The rule and threatened listing were slammed by environmentalists as a gift to industry.

“These bats are losing more ground every day to a devastating disease, and instead of providing strong protection for the survivors, the Fish and Wildlife Service has given the green light to logging, oil and gas drilling, mining and other habitat-wrecking industries,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Weakening protections for the northern long-eared bat when it’s just barely surviving white-nose syndrome is like sucker-punching a cancer patient.”

“We’re definitely going to fight this highly political decision — one that all but ignores the science,” she added, pointing to a letter signed by more than 80 bat scientists that called for an endangered listing.

But Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh praised the decision.

“The decision to list the bat as threatened with an interim 4(d) rule represents a biologically sound determination that will address the conservation needs of these bats while providing flexibility for those who live and work within the bats’ range,” he said.

Industries protected by the 4(d) rule were divided on the listing.

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Jo Ann Emerson said utilities “appreciate the decision” to go with a threatened listing.

But the American Forest and Paper Association thinks FWS is targeting the wrong culprit.

“We are concerned that listing the northern long-eared bat as threatened will hinder forest management activities that provide habitat for the animal rather than address and find treatment for the acknowledged threat to the species: white-nose syndrome,” AF&PA President and CEO Donna Harman said in a statement.

That viewpoint was echoed by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, whose members’ incidental take is not specifically protected in areas where infected bats are found.

“Rather than listing the bat and limiting development, the Fish and Wildlife Service should work toward finding a solution to this deadly disease, while ensuring energy development, environmental stewardship, species conservation, and economic growth can thrive together across the nation,” said Dan Naatz, IPPA’s senior vice president of government relations and political affairs.

FWS noted that it is also spending $20 million on white-nose syndrome research.

First detected in upstate New York, the disease causes infected bats to fly out of their caves in late winter, when they should be hibernating. The bats then die of exhaustion and dehydration while searching for insects that haven’t yet hatched.

Kansas Quail Initiative in the Running for Grant

Votes for  the Kansas Quail Initiative could bring $25,000 grant to program   You can help Kansas bobwhite  quail with just the click of your mouse. Sportdog Brand, a company that  produces electronic dog training equipment, is asking the public to help select  conservation projects that they can support with additional funding.   Sportdog’s Future Forward Fund contest is a spin-off from their  Conservation Fund program, which supports grassroots organizations that work  with state, federal, and private wildlife and land management agencies to  conserve wild game populations and critical wildlife habitat. The Future  Forward Fund contest accepted conservation project proposals from around the  country before selecting a top seven. The Kansas Quail Initiative (KQI),  nominated by Quail Forever, made the cut. Voting is open now through Nov. 30,  2012. You can vote for the KQI on Sportdog’s Facebook page at,  Twitter,  Sportdog’s website or  the email address [email protected].       The project with the most votes will receive a $25,000 grant. The  second place vote-getter will receive $5,000.

      KQI is a Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism project  designed to reverse declining bobwhite quail populations at a landscape level.  The project includes the designation of two large quail management focus areas  in the eastern half of the state where landowners will receive 100 percent  cost-share to improve habitat on their land. The goal is to increase quail  numbers by 50 percent and to increase suitable quail habitat by 5 percent in  each focus area.       Additional support for KQI is provided by the National Wild Turkey  Federation, Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation, Quail Forever, Safari Club  International, Kansas Wildlife Federation, and the Nature  Conservancy.Kansas biologists have joined forces with biologists in other  states to form the National Bobwhite Technical Committee with a goal of  improving quail habitat across its range through a National Bobwhite  Conservation Initiative.

Kansas Quail Initiative pdf

KQI is a Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism project designed to reverse declining bobwhite quail populations at a landscape level. The project includes the designation of two large quail management focus areas in the eastern half of the state where landowners will receive 100 percent cost-share to improve habitat on their land. The goal is to increase quail numbers by 50 percent and to increase suitable quail habitat by 5 percent in each focus area. For an excellent presentation by the KDWP&T visit:

Beware of what you feed to your wildlife!

A member of the KWF Board of Directors went down to a local Coop elevator to purchase some corn to fill his deer feeders. He was told their “Deer Corn” had been tested and found to have Aflatoxin, so it should not be fed to cattle or sheep. No mention was made as to its impact on other wildlife. So he contacted his local Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism regional office.

Aflatoxins are a group of chemicals produced by certain mold fungi. These fungi, Aspergillus flavusand Aspergillus parasiticus, can be recognized by yellow-green or gray-green, respectively, on corn kernels, in the field or in storage. Although aflatoxins are not automatically produced whenever grain becomes moldy, the risk of aflatoxin contamination is greater in damaged, moldy corn than in corn with little mold. Aflatoxins are harmful or fatal to livestock and are considered carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to animals and humans.

Since ruminants are similar, if it can’t be fed to cattle it probably shouldn’t be fed to deer. Placing high levels of Aflatoxin in areas where quail, pheasants, prairie-chicken, turkey and other birds may get it is even more detrimental to those and other avian species. 

Unfortunately, the KDWPT has no authority in this regard. It is legal in Kansas to sell and feed moldy grain. All KDWPT can do is inform people that using moldy grain of any kind is dangerous and detrimental to the wildlife species people enjoy viewing.

If you get a bag of moldy grain, do like our Board member did: take it back and trade it for grain without Aflatoxin.