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Integrated Management of the Greater Prairie Chicken and Livestock on the Sheyenne National Grassland

Opportunities on Private Land

Given the history of the prairie chicken on the Northern Great Plains, it is doubtful that the SNG could support as many prairie chickens as it does without the interspersion of private land throughout the grass and the production of grain and hay crops. It is the mix of grass and grain that can serve the chicken well in the North.

Food plots

Probably the most important habitat component which can be provided on private land is food plots. As mentioned in the "Winter food" section, these are not only important for the foods available in the winter but during the spring as well. And, if a portion of a food plot is left untilled the second season, the weedy forb growth and its associated insects can be important brood habitat. Sunflowers, then corn, are recommended. Sunflowers would be desirable for 2 reasons; the seeds are highly preferred and nutritious and the herbicides associated with sunflowers would not carry over as much as those used with corn, thus allowing more weedy forbs to grow in the second year portion of the plot.

Hay production

Hay production, especially alfalfa, can be beneficial to prairie chickens if the losses to nests and broods can be minimized. It can provide attractive nesting cover and brood habitat. Perhaps some creative cooperative arrangements can be worked out with ranchers whereby a portion of an alfalfa field could be left unharvested until 1 August when most broods would be older. Since broods often use field edges, it could be best left along the field edge. Also, if swathers are used, a "down-and-back" harvesting method might be used instead of circling the field. This could have the effect of moving a brood across a field rather than trapping them in the middle, especially if the brood is young.

CRP fields

CRP fields, if strategically positioned near (within 1-2 miles) of booming grounds have the potential to provide near optimum nesting and roosting cover since most are planted to brome and alfalfa. They must be managed though, because nesting values go down as the litter accumulates. A system of disked firebreaks could separate a field into units which could be burned on a rotational basis. Broods would use newly-burned units as well as the disked firebreaks for dusting and the weedy forbs. Haying or grazing could also be explored. Approval would need to be obtained from the U.S.D.A. in order to manage CRP fields in this way.

Land use changes

The habitat value of some private land for prairie chickens in the SNG will go down if land formerly planted to sunflowers, corn, alfalfa, and soybeans is converted to potato production. This will place a greater importance on remaining lands which provide residual grains available for winter and spring use. The method of harvest can also impact the amount of residual grains. For example, corn chopped for silage leaves little grain behind in comparison to corn that is picked for grain.

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