Date of this Version
The Prairie Naturalist • 52(2): December 2020
In 1992, an effort was undertaken by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDGFD), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and North Dakota Chapter of the Wildlife Society to reestablish a viable population of greater prairie chickens (Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus; hereafter prairie chickens) in northeast North Dakota. The release area was centered on the Prairie Chicken Wildlife Management Area located 22.5 km northwest of Grand Forks, North Dakota, in the northern part of Grand Forks County. Topography consists of poorly drained, saline flats and swells separated by poorly drained swales and sloughs in the Red River Valley (Beringer 1995). Permanent grasslands in the release area at the time of the first translocations in 1992 were wildlife areas managed by the state of North Dakota (1,908 ha) and federally owned waterfowl production areas and Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge (3,106 ha). Within 9.6 km of the release sites, there were approximately 14,000 ha of grasslands on private lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) (Beringer 1995, Kobriger 1999). The release area had populations of both prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus; hereafter sharp-tails) in the past. NDGFD census data that began in 1954 showed that prairie chickens disappeared in 1980. Sharp-tails peaked in 1981 at 118 males but were down to four by 1989, and none were observed in 1992 (Beringer 1995, Kobriger 1999). Since the 1980’s, grassland cover in the area increased through state and federal acquisition and the CRP. Management activity (tree removal, prescribed burning, and brush control) on the state and federal lands also increased. A viable prairie chicken population exists 50 to 70 km away in northwest Minnesota. These factors, and a past history of prairie chickens inhabiting the area made this a viable site to reestablish a breeding population of prairie chickens (Kobriger 1999).