Radio tracking has helped monitor and preserve Oklahoma wildlife, researchers say. In 2000, Oklahoma State University students hired by wildlife officials used radio equipment to track black bears through rugged parts of Oklahoma. "It was very good information,” said Joe Hemphill, southeast regional supervisor and black bear coordinator for the state Department of Wildlife Conservation. For the past decade, technicians have used transmitters the size of a wristwatch to track the lesser prairie chicken, a candidate for listing as an endangered species. After studying the range, foraging and mating activities of up to 100 of the birds at a time in Ellis, Harper and Beaver counties, researchers are now tracking only about a dozen of them. The study helped identify threats to the species. One turns out to be cedar trees that are taking over the open spaces vital to the prairie chicken. Another, of course, is the presence of predators. "We have found dead birds down in badger burrows 4 feet down,” said Don Wolfe, biologist for the George M. Sutton Avian Research Center. Perhaps the greatest threat, one that might be responsible for up to half the deaths of lesser prairie chickens, is manmade and everywhere. "These birds hit fences a lot,” Wolfe said. A prairie chicken fleeing a falcon or other predator will frantically dart low across the prairie searching for undergrowth to dive into. Since they’re looking for a thicket, they don’t perceive narrow fencing lines as a threat, a fatal mistake, Wolfe figured. "They hit steel wire at 60 mph.” The finding led biologists to focus on "ground management,” working with landowners to reduce the threat by removing unnecessary fences and by making existing ones more visible to the birds. They did that by hanging small pieces of vinyl house siding on them. So far, technicians have used vinyl pieces to mark 140 miles of fence, a tiny fraction of existing fences. But it is working. In the marked areas, Wolfe said, "we’ve not had a single collision.” Researchers now are trying to evaluate the effect of a growing presence on the prairies — windpower generators and transmission lines.
For the past decade, technicians have used transmitters the size of a wristwatch to track the lesser prairie chicken, a candidate for listing as an endangered species.