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Agricultural News

US Forest Service Tracks Lesser Prairie-Chicken Movements Using Satellite Telemetry

Wed, 14 Dec 2011 10:17:02 CST

US Forest Service Tracks Lesser Prairie-Chicken Movements Using Satellite Telemetry The US Forest Service (USFS) is using satellite telemetry to track the movements of Lesser Prairie-Chickens (LEPC) on an almost 24-hour basis throughout their lifecycle. The purpose of the project is to monitor LEPC movements particularly during nesting and brood rearing and potential avoidance distances of human-made structures such as oil and gas wells. Ultimately, data will be used to help plan habitat restoration and improvement projects on the Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands and inform decisions to lessen impacts from USFS programs such as grazing, oil and gas, and fire and fuels.

"By knowing the movements and habitat usage of the chickens throughout the year, this project will help us better plan habitat improvement projects and manage resources to protect this species within the national grasslands," says Andy Chappell, a wildlife biologist at Cimarron National Grassland.

To accomplish the task, USFS is using GPS/satellite telemetry to monitor LEPC movements. In the spring of 2011, staff from Comanche National Grassland and Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism trapped three male Lesser Prairie Chickens and attached transmitters using a rump mount.

GPS/satellite telemetry combines the technology of both the GPS receiver and satellite transmitter in one device to collect data on animals with a limited range. An animal that carries a GPS/satellite device stores its GPS location data in the device; this data is then transmitted every few days to a satellite. This technology allows a user to collect fine-scale movement data of animals with limited ranges and have this data transmitted to any location. In this project, the collected data will be used to create a GIS layer of LEPC movements over time and analyzed to determine if Lesser Prairie-Chickens avoid man-made structures.

Past radio telemetry studies from southwest Kansas showed effects of habitat fragmentation by human development on Lesser Prairie-Chickens by their consistent avoidance of roads, powerlines, buildings and oil and gas developments. By tracking LEPC movements on a long-term basis, researchers will gain knowledge of what types of habitat the birds use in any given season. The data collected by the Forest Service will expand the collective knowledge from previous studies of LEPC movements in relation to human disturbance, which will help guide management decisions throughout the region.

The USFS project will be expanded to Colorado in 2012 when Colorado Parks and Wildlife use satellite telemetry to collect data on LEPC movements within Comanche National Grassland. "Their participation will greatly add to the value of this monitoring effort," says Chappell. "The small number of birds currently being tracked limits the confidence in the conclusions that can be drawn from the GPS location data. As more partners participate, we may be able to significantly increase the number of birds being monitored, thereby increasing confidence in the results."



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