Hunters can apply now to be included in a lottery for one of 126 permits available for the 2016 Minnesota prairie chicken season.
Applications are available wherever Minnesota hunting and fishing licenses are sold. The deadline is Friday, Aug. 19. For application procedures and a permit area map visit www.mndnr.gov/hunting/prairiechicken.
“Prairie chicken hunting brings greater awareness to the plight of the grasslands and prairies that prairie chickens depend upon,” said Steve Merchant, wildlife populations and regulations manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “The way to increase prairie chicken populations is to conserve more grasslands and prairies.”
Minnesota has lost 98 percent of its original native prairie largely through conversion to agricultural uses. In Minnesota, acres in conservation programs peaked in 2007 at 1.99 million acres with the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) making up 1.75 million of those acres. But despite growth in several conservation programs, the state dropped to having 1.53 million acres in 2014, largely due to high losses in CRP land.
“The loss of CRP land magnifies the importance of permanently protecting land for habitat, including through acquisition of land for hunting, wildlife watching and other recreational uses, as well as permanent protection on private land,” Merchant said.
The nine-day prairie chicken season begins on Saturday, Sept. 24, and is open only to Minnesota residents. Hunters will be charged a $4 application fee and may apply individually or in groups up to four. Prairie chicken licenses cost $23. Apply at any DNR license agent; the DNR License Center, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul; online at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense or by telephone at888-665-4236. An additional fee is charged for orders placed online or by phone.
The hunt will be conducted in 11 prairie chicken quota areas in west-central Minnesota between St. Hilaire in the north and Breckenridge in the south. Up to 20 percent of the permits in each area will be issued to landowners or tenants of 40 acres or more of prairie or grassland property within the permit area for which they applied. The season bag limit is two prairie chickens per hunter.
Licensed prairie chicken hunters will be allowed to take sharp-tailed grouse while legally hunting prairie chickens, but prairie chicken hunters who want to take sharptails must meet all regulations and licensing requirements for taking sharp-tailed grouse. Sharptails and prairie chickens look similar and sharp-tailed grouse hunting is normally closed in this area of the state to protect prairie chickens that might be taken accidentally.
In 2015, an estimated 103 prairie chickens were harvested, with 55 percent of hunters taking at least one bird. Hunter success varies considerably from year-to-year, especially when poor weather prevents hunters from going out in the field.
When it comes to conserving prairie and grasslands, the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan aims to protect Minnesota’s remaining native prairie, and restore and manage grasslands. These actions should benefit prairie chickens as a result, and one measure of the success of the plan overall is stable or increasing populations of prairie chickens.
“We’re not there yet, but we know that partnerships with landowners and conservation organizations are vital to conserving prairie chicken habitat,” Merchant said.
To develop the prairie plan, the DNR partnered with groups including the Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society, The Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever and others. For more information on the prairie chicken, search “prairie chicken” at the DNR’s rare species guide atwww.mndnr.gov/rsg. For more information on the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan, visitwww.mndnr.gov/prairieplan.