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What the cluck?



I grew up in western Woods County in what is considered part of the Prairie Chicken habitat. When I lived on the farm in the 1950s, probably 20-25 percent of the land was under cultivation. We regularly saw a handful of prairie chickens, seldom more than a dozen.

During the last 60 years, the habitat has changed from a heavy emphasis on farming to pasture for beef production. We still see about a dozen prairie chickens.

Oklahoma State University sent a team of researchers to study the population of prairie chickens. They visited our ranch off and on during different seasons over a couple of years. Their conclusion? “We don’t know why there aren’t more prairie chickens.” Conditions seem ideal. The northwest corner of Woods County has an extremely low population density. Wind farm developers tried to lease the area, but when the Southwest Power Pool moved the transmission line 30 miles east, they backed out of the deal. Landowners involved in the negotiations thought that the land being considered for development was prairie chicken habitat and the possibility of the bird being listed as threatened or endangered was also a factor in their abandoning the project.

I’ve had an intimate connection with the area for 65 years. I’ve seen all kinds of weather from howling “blue norther” blizzards when the temperature plunged to 20 below zero to scorching hot summers when the thermometer read 115 degrees. I’ve seen it transform from farmland with families living only a few miles apart to an area of grassland almost completely devoid of humans. Through it all, the prairie chicken population has fluctuated on either side of a dozen. Maybe that’s the carrying capacity for the area. I certainly haven’t seen any evidence to support listing them as threatened or endangered.

—Dale Wares

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