Attwater's Prairie Chicken
History of Species Decline
What are We Doing?
So what is being done to turn this steady downward trend around and bring the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken to recovery? Many would say that the data above presents a desolate, discouraging picture of the plight of this bird, but biologists are optimistic. In recent years promising signs – small but steady successes in the captive breeding programs, increasing survival rates for released birds on the prairies, advances in immunology for this bird, and the fact that the bird is still with us all point to potential for the bird to recover. But what is being done to ensure that these positive trends result in recovery?
A team of some of the best researchers and wildlife managers involved with prairie chickens from across North America has been assembled to guide the recovery efforts. This team, including representatives from government, private sector research organizations, zoological parks, education and interested groups has pooled their efforts to ensure that this bird will recover.
Among those participating in the recovery effort are:
- The United States Fish and Wildlife Service – charged by the Endangered Species Act to direct the recovery and operators of the larger remaining refuge.
- The Nature Conservancy of Texas – operating the Texas City Prairie Preserve and a major fundraising partner.
- Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
- Texas A&M University – a research partner
- Abilene Zoo – http://www.abilenetx.com/zoo/index.htm – captive breeding
- Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, TX – captive breeding
- Fossil Rim Wildlife Center – captive breeding
- Houston Zoo – captive breeding
- San Antonio Zoo – captive breeding
- Sea World San Antonio – http://www.seaworld.com/seaworld/tx/default.aspx – captive breeding
Oversight of the effort falls to a team selected for their knowledge of prairie chickens and their success with the breeding and release of related species. Carrying out the recovery effort is divided into four working groups.
The research working group is charged with genetic studies and research efforts designed to increase the survival of birds released into the wild, maintain the genetic integrity of the breeding population and find better ways to do what we currently do. Currently, a strong focus at Texas A& M University is development of a vaccine to control Reticuloendotheliosis virus – REV – an infectious disease that has resulted in significant losses of captive brood stock and the inability to release captive raised birds in the past. This research is showing promise and the team is hopeful for a break through soon. Other current research activities are examining the appropriateness of the responses of captive raised prairie chickens to predation threats by comparing these responses to those of wild birds. If these birds are responding inappropriately to threats, it could be having a detrimental impact on species survival.
The habitat management working group plans the activities on the two current refuges and looks at what will be needed to restore optimal habitat for these birds. Rotational grazing, prescribed burns, and re-vegetation are their primary tools. This group also works with private land owners who are willing to allow reintroduction of the bird on their lands to optimize the habitat in anticipation of the opportunity for release of birds on sites other than the refuges. Safe Harbor Agreements and cost sharing incentives are encouraging landowners to accept these opportunities. More than 80,000 acres are currently enrolled in Safe Harbor Agreements and cost share assistance is being provided on some 45,000 acres.
The population management working group is a key to the success of the captive breeding program and the maintenance of a high genetic diversity from limited original stock. This group plans both the pairing of nesting birds for the nesting season and the release of excess birds to the wild. Through their efforts, the potential for released birds has grown to more than 100 individuals annually. The goal is to have more than 200 birds available each year for release while still maintaining the genetic integruity of the flock and the health of all stock. This will of course require larger breeding facilities, effective vaccines and enhanced animal husbandry programs.
Coordination of the projects and communication are the priorities of the coordination and communication working group. This is the group that provides the material for this website, that creates the brochures, news releases, news letters, tip sheets and other information you can access about the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken.
Wildlife Diversity Program
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
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