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Sharptails, prairie chickens increase

Sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chicken numbers in Minnesota also were up in spring surveys, the Department of Natural Resources says. According to Mike Larson, wildlife research biologist for the DNR in Grand Rapids, Minn., surveys tallied 11.7 ...

Sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chicken numbers in Minnesota also were up in spring surveys, the Department of Natural Resources says.

According to Mike Larson, wildlife research biologist for the DNR in Grand Rapids, Minn., surveys tallied 11.7 sharp-tailed grouse per dancing ground, or lek, this spring, a number that hasn't been seen since 1980.

That's up from 9.2 sharptails per lek last year.

To sample sharptail numbers, observers look for male grouse displaying on their mating grounds. The DNR splits the survey into northwest and east-central Minnesota survey regions.

The survey tallied 12.9 sharptails per dancing ground in the northwest, and 9.4 sharptails in the east-central area, increases of 37 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

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In the northwest, sharptails also seem to be expanding their grounds. That's what Randy Prachar, manager of Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area near Middle River, Minn., encountered in the area he surveyed.

"Personally, I was going around looking for new grounds in areas we don't typically count, and there were some impressive numbers in a couple of those areas," Prachar said in a recent Herald interview.

Still, heavy June rains likely will hamper production in at least some parts of the northwest, said Stan Wood, manager of the Roseau River Wildlife Management Area north of Badger, Minn.

"These wet conditions are pretty tough for ground-nesting birds," he said.

The DNR also documented an increase in prairie chicken numbers. Counts of prairie chickens on their booming grounds in western Minnesota were up about 45 percent from last year.

In survey blocks representing relatively good prairie chicken habitat, observers counted 14.5 males per booming ground and one booming ground per 2.4 square miles, the DNR said. The prairie chicken population recently has been greater than during the 1980s and 1990s.

Sharptails, meanwhile, slowly seem to be recovering after a long-term decline that resulted, at least in part, from reduced habitat. In recent years, the DNR has increased prescribed burning and shearing, which keeps trees from overtaking the open brush lands that sharptails grouse need to thrive.

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