By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Conservation Reserve Program options are popping up all around.

Just as it was being announced that another 30,000 acres of land could be enrolled in a program to specifically benefit the lesser prairie chicken, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a more general and much larger enrollment period.

And there's still the option of enrolling land in a Farm Service Agency program also designed to benefit lesser prairie chickens,

Interest there, however, has only been lukewarm. That program has attracted only 5,762 acres, leaving room to enroll an additional 24,237 acres.

A similar program funneled through the Natural Resource and Conservation Service last year attracted slightly more than 28,000 acres.

For comparison's sake, the current 30,000-acre, $2 million NRCS project is aimed specifically at 34 Kansas counties the prairie chicken is known to inhabit.

Separately, the general CRP enrollment covers the nation and as many as 4 million acres will be accepted, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who traveled to Nebraska's Pheasant Fest last week for the announcement.

Although it started out primarily to protect highly erodible cropland, CRP has evolved and now is considered one of the strongest USDA programs benefitting wildlife.

The prairie chicken initiative has been especially significant because the bird is but a step away from being listed as an endangered species.

The special initiatives are being used to head off efforts -- and the need -- for the bird to go on the list.

Currently, the lesser prairie chicken's listing is considered "warranted but precluded" by other higher priority species.

Wildearth Guardians, an environmental advocacy group based in Denver, sued Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for failing to put the bird on the list even after more than 10 years of waiting in the wings.

That lawsuit is pending.

Matt Smith, the farm bill coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, is delighted to see another general CRP enrollment coming up.

"It will be a good thing," he said.

During the next two years, more than a million acres of Kansas land in CRP will expire.

In the lesser prairie chicken territory alone, the amount is 331,000 acres, Smith said, with another 366,000 acres in 2012. Statewide, 532,067 acres will expire this year and another 514,786 will expire in 2012.

In the 20 counties that make up northwest Kansas, nearly 81,000 acres are set to expire this year with another 79,000 set to expire in 2012.

In last year's general signup, USDA accepted almost 620,000 acres of Kansas land into CRP, much of that land already in the program.

Enrollment in the general CRP program is set to begin March 14 and continue through April 15. County FSA offices have details about the general enrollment or the program aimed at helping the prairie chicken.

Enrollment in the special 30,000-acre lesser prairie chicken initiative will be accepted through March 4. County NRCS offices have details about the program.