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Lek counts set record on Fort Pierre National Grassland

FORT PIERRE (AP) -- The number of prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse spotted on spring leks on the Fort Pierre National Grassland in central South Dakota is the highest in recorded history, an indication of a healthy grassland, officials say.

FORT PIERRE (AP) - The number of prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse spotted on spring leks on the Fort Pierre National Grassland in central South Dakota is the highest in recorded history, an indication of a healthy grassland, officials say.

Leks are where male birds conduct mating displays to attract females. The Capital Journal reported that 491 male prairie chickens were counted this year, up from 413 last year. Sharp-tailed grouse went from 56 to 131. Both figures are the highest since records began in 1988.

"I think it's indicative that we've got good habitat that the birds really respond to," District Ranger Dan Svingen said.

Prairie chickens have been struggling throughout most of North America in the last half century, but on the Fort Pierre National Grassland they're thriving.

"This is like an island of birds," grasslands biologist Ruben Mares said.

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The prairie chicken population has been trending upward since 1988, with the exception of a few years that featured bad winters or summer droughts.

"Prairie chickens are what we're most excited about," Mares said.

Sharp-tailed grouse lek counts on the grassland have been more steady. A dry spring coupled with a wet, chilly June last year seems to have impacted nesting success, Mares said.

This year, steady precipitation in May has led to an earlier greening of the grassland, benefiting hens that are laying and incubating eggs.

"I'm hoping the availability of green vegetation will improve nest success," Svingen said.

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