New wildlife management area in NW Minnesota preserves rare prairie habitat

Prairie chicken
A Prairie Chicken dances on a booming ground.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News file

A new state wildlife management area in northwest Minnesota is named for the species that will benefit from the protected habitat.

The 955-acre Cupido Wildlife Management Area near the town of Syre, in Norman County, gets its name from the Latin designation for the greater prairie chicken, Tympanuchus cupido.

“It's got a little over 300 acres of remnant, never been plowed, native prairie, one of the most imperiled habitats we have in the state of Minnesota,” said DNR Detroit Lakes area wildlife supervisor Rob Baden.

The Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society and Pheasants Forever purchased the land with the help of a $1.8 million grant from the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Fund, and donated it to the Department of Natural Resources.

a wooden sign in a field
The Cupido Wildlife Management Area is located near the town of Syre in Norman County.
Courtesy Minnesota DNR

Baden said the project is the culmination of 50 years of efforts to buy that parcel of native prairie.

"It's been on our radar since the ‘60s. It's got some really nice remnant prairie acreage, kind of the core of the prairie chicken range in the state of Minnesota," he said.

“It’s kind of a keystone project in the area, probably one of the largest land acquisitions we've had in this part of Minnesota in quite a long time. And will be a nice core habitat piece for prairie chickens and lots of other wildlife species.”

In addition to the native prairie, another 500 acres of poor quality farmland will be restored to prairie and wetlands. The new WMA brings the complex of public land in the area to more than 5,000 acres and creates connected prairie habitat covering nearly five miles, according to Baden.

“This 955-acre block actually has four different booming grounds for prairie chickens located on it,” said Baden. “So it's really a keystone piece for prairie chickens.”

The greater prairie chicken was designated as a species of special concern in Minnesota in 1984, when most remaining birds were located in a small area of northwest Minnesota.

Loss of prairie habitat is considered the greatest threat to the birds.

The prairie chicken population has expanded and the DNR now allows limited hunting of the birds each fall.

Birds from Minnesota have also been relocated to Wisconsin as part of an effort to restore the greater prairie chicken population there.

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