Tuesday, September 28, 2010

There's Still More Work to be Done!

So hear is the meat of the situation! The second weekend of October, the Oklahoma Important Bird Areas Program with support from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, The Sutton Avian Research Center, TogetherGreen, SIA the Comanche Nation Ethno-ornithological Initiative, The Selman Ranch LLC, the Oklahoma Audubon Council, and the Tulsa Audubon Society.......surely I'm forgetting someone, will be holding a fence work weekend at the Selman Ranch IBA and other properties nearby.  We will meet at the Selman Ranch starting on Friday the 8th of October in the evening. Work will begin on Saturday morning, the 9th and will wrap up on the 10th.  Volunteers are welcome to show up through out the weekend, staying the entire weekend is highly recommended.  I will post directions to the event in the near future and will accept questions via email,  phone calls, facebook...ect...The weekend will not be limited to just work, there is always plenty of time for wildlife watching, good conversations, and a lot of fun.  Food details are being worked out and there will be more information coming out about that in the future. If you can't attend but still would like to contribute, through a donation to the Tulsa Audubon Society you can help pay for food, beverages or help off- set other costs such as lodging compensation for the Selman Ranch ect. Just contact me or John Kennington ( johnkennington@gmail.com) for more information on that.

So while you consider the event let me take you on a short trip to the prairie!

The thermometer has begun its decent into the fall and young, male prairie chickens are beginning to gather at the lekking grounds for a chance to work on next spring’s repertoire of ritual song and dance. The annual migration is well on its way as well, and every once in a while the sound of an overhead Upland Sandpiper charms your senses. As you continue to walk along the fence line, every few moments you are reminded by subtle beauty, the reason you have come to western, Oklahoma. Sure your taking some time out of your day to make a few miles of fence safe for a local population of threatened game birds, but you also realize that quiet moments like the one you are in now are truly what life is about.

A week and a half ago I spent some time in the Texas panhandle working to remove and mark fences in prime prairie chicken country. Lipscomb Co, Texas to be more precise.  By the end of day three my body was already starting to feel pretty worn over. Marking fences is pretty relaxing, removing fences on the other hand is dirty, hard work. Blood, sweat, and well, there are no tears but you get the picture.  Even with gloves you sometimes get scratched; numerous times I found myself working away and completely oblivious to the fact that my whole fore-arm was covered in blood. Really a simple scratch but had someone seen me they would have freaked out, believing it to be a bit more serious

Lesser Prairie Chicken (one of two), Lipscomb County, Texas. September 7, 2010

 Why did the chicken cross the road?

Because, it apparently got confused by the fence that was blocking its way.  Not unlike a Guinea Hen this particular bird, pictured above, would not follow it's companions  example and fly over the fence.  Instead it ran up and down the fence line then turned around and high tailed it back over the county road and into an unfenced area. Yet, there are still those who continue to argue that fences don't pose some particular type of problem to prairie grouse! Or that the problems cease to exist in particular states, seriously! Did I go there...
I don’t like to refer to it as “fence removal”. I much rather prefer a description, something like: “breaking the prairie free of its steal and wood barriers.” Recapturing what was once the Great Plains, and making it so again. That sounds far more tantalizing to me! I like to imagine what it was like when you could stand on the knoll of a hill and gaze upon the seemingly endless ocean of prairie. Winds create ripples upon the surface of the grasses; Northern Harrier’s moving, not at all unlike an albatross across an open sea. The smells of sage, and ragweed draw you into the scene more deeply.

One of the best feelings I have ever had was that of turning around, after having removed about a half mile of old fence, and catching a glimpse of a fenceless prairie. For that brief moment, there in front of me, in my small field of vision was that ancient prairie from our not so long ago past. Like the harrier pitching and rolling over the sandhill, my mind was free and so was my body. I want to share that feeling with as many people as possible. I want to show you why I, and so many others have dedicated our lives to ensuring that these special places and the flora and fauna found within them persist. I want you to hear the sounds and smell the air, and then decide for yourself that these birds, wildlife, and the lands they depend upon for survival can and will be preserved for future generations.

I have come to our community numerous times with the same request; time and time again people step forward and willingly make the excursion to northwest, Oklahoma to work and share time. We have shared sunrises and sunsets that set the earth afire, all standing silently in awe as the the shy shared with us vibrant purples and reds. Some have seen mountain lion bounding over the prairie. Bluebirds have stood out starkly against a background from a whole different color palette, amazing onlookers with the brilliant hues that were deeper than the blue sky above where we stood.

All of this beauty was shared during a volunteer event that was coordinated for the benefit of a local population of the Lesser Prairie Chicken. Through the many volunteers hours that have supported the Oklahoma Important Bird Areas program we have been able to make thousands of acres safe for travel for the prairie chicken.  Your support has allowed us to show the different state, and federal agencies that this issue is important and how we are willing to put the time in to show how much we support any work for this threatened species.  It's important to keep moving forward with this work, for a number of reasons.

Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum)
The battle over land in western, Oklahoma continues to drive on. Slowly but surely the permanent plans for oil, gas, wind and transmission line development are being agreed upon and the lines in the sand are drawn permanently.  Thousands of acres, many native prairie, are being lost to new energy development every year. In the case of wind farms and transmission lines their development carries on with only the suggestion of voluntary environmental reporting. Areas like the Selman Ranch Important Bird Area and public properties like Cimarron Bluff and Cimarron Hills Wildlife Management Areas become the sites that we need to turn our attention to.  These places will serve as holdings for this and other species in the future, and it is all of our duties to make sure that the lands are in good order for them and the rest of the wildlife present.  Managing lands for the Lesser Prairie Chicken is pretty simple.  Summarized (hugely) it all boils down to invasive plant species control, a good fire regime, seeing to it that fences are removed and marked, and ensuring that we keep these large land holdings public and that if we can, see to it that they increase in size over time. Sure I know some of you hard science types are saying, "well it's a little more complicated than that".  Honestly it is, but the actual heavy lifting that needs to happen, when your feet are firmly planted in the soil, is simple and can easily and quickly be taken care of, that is no lie!  If you want to argue with me about it then stand your ground at the next volunteer event and I would be happy to have a conversation!

See you in the prairie!

Sachem (Atalopeded campestris

A very young rattle snake, only about seven inches long and as thick as my pinky finger.  Never figured out what species it was.