- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Prairie grouse populations are continuing to rebound in South Dakota after the drought of 2012, according to biologists.

Spring lek counts from both state and federal biologists showed significantly higher numbers than last year’s counts, the Pierre Capital Journal (https://bit.ly/1HulTKx ) reported.

The 2015 count of male greater prairie chickens on the Fort Pierre National Grassland was nearly double the amount recorded in 2014, said wildlife biologist Ruben Mares. This year, 413 male greater prairie chickens and 56 male sharp-tailed grouse were counted, compared to 239 male greater prairie chickens and 45 male sharp-tailed grouse counted last year, he said.

Mares credits fairly mild winter conditions with allowing more birds to survive to mating season.

The statewide grouse population also saw an increase over the past year, according to Alex Solem, an upland game resource biologist with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department.

The amount of male sharp-tailed grouse counted on the state’s 10 lek counting routes rose by nearly 20 percent, he said, while the male greater prairie chicken numbers were up about 9 percent.

Solem agrees with Mares that good weather conditions contributed to the growth of the state’s rangeland, adding that the amount sweet clover that provided a cover and protein rich insects for grouse chicks also was a factor.

“The sweet clover we had last year really helped a lot,” Solem said. “And we had really good range conditions.”

But overall grouse numbers in the state have dwindled over the past 20 years due to land use changes, according to Solem.

There were about four grouse per square mile in the Fort Pierre National Grassland in 1994, compared to about one per square mile today.

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Information from: Pierre Capital Journal, https://www.capjournal.com

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