By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

GOODLAND -- There's interest on the part of the state's wildlife commission to move ahead with developing regulations to allow the use of silencers by federal employees whose job it is to limit wildlife damage in Kansas.

The silencer request came last week from Tom Halstead, director of the Kansas office of Wildlife Services, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Under current regulations, it's not possible for Wildlife Services to use a silencer even though it has a blanket damage control permit to deal with problem animals across the state, including several airports.

"Another area we'd like to use them is in Logan County," he said, referring to controlling prairie dogs.

Through an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, Wildlife Services offers free prairie dog control to landowners within a 3-mile radius around the two sites where the highly endangered black-footed ferrets have been reintroduced.

Halstead said shooting could be a useful tool, noting that his agency is limited on the type of poison that can be used around the ferrets.

Typically, prairie dogs head underground when shooting starts, because they can hear the report of the rifle. A silencer would prevent that.

Halstead said his agency also helps control wildlife at about 30 different airports in Kansas, and said a silencer might help allay any concerns that could stem from hearing shots being fired in the area.

While the regulations still would need to be written, Amy Thornton, an attorney for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, said the change could allow a private landowner the ability to use a silencer if they meet all the federal criteria to own and use the equipment.

Commissioner Doug Sebelius, Norton, voiced concern about safety surrounding the use of a silencer because there would be no way for anyone to know someone was in the area if the crack of the rifle couldn't be heard.

"I'm just thinking if there's other people in the area," he said.

Halstead said it wouldn't be a problem because airport officials are well aware of Wildlife Services' presence when controlling animals.

"I think the airports and the Logan County situation are the areas where we'd use it 95 percent of the time," he said.

The expense of a silencer would limit the use as well because only a few would be purchased. Only about 20 deer are killed by the agency each year.

Halstead said the use of a silencer might increase its kill of prairie dogs by 25 percent.

"By using suppressors, we think we can do it more efficiently," he said. "It's not a silver bullet."

Commissioner Gerald Lauber, Topeka, urged moving ahead with the plan, suggesting it would be a "more effective method" of control.

"Because of a misguided perception of people who don't like hunting ... discretion is the key," he said. "The Nature Conservancy has pointed out that prairie dog control is prairie dog poisoning, and we're sorry."

He went on to say that allowing the use of silencers "makes sense."

Commissioner Shari Wilson, Kansas City, voiced concern about opening up the use of silencers to private individuals.

Because the process is only starting, it will be several months before the commission gets a chance to look at a new rule.