By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Jim Pitman has been on the run lately, meeting with energy companies to convince them to sign on with the five-state lesser prairie chicken range-wide conservation plan.

That's the 373-page document spelling out a host of issues dealing with a species of grouse being proposed for listing as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It's a move that was part of a court-settlement in a lawsuit charging FWS with sitting on its laurels on a number of troubled species.

FWS has endorsed the five-state plan -- the work of wildlife agencies in Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico through the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies -- even though it hasn't made a decision on the listing.

"I'm going out and trying to sell our plan to industry right now," said Pitman, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism's small game coordinator and a member of the interstate working group drafting the five-state plan.

The plan has been met with sharp criticism because of the costs energy and utility companies will incur by participating, and when they pay for mitigation efforts when they decide to drill an oil well, build a road or erect transmission lines.

The costs vary depending on where the development takes place. The costs will be the greatest in prime habitat.

Costs associated with a oil or gas drilling operation could range from more than $100,000 in prime habitat to less than $1,500 in low quality habitat.

Wind turbine costs could range from $1.1 million to about $15,000.

Transmission lines would be comparable in cost.

Money from utilities, either from simple enrollment fees or mitigation fees, would be used to pay landowners to implement practices beneficial to prairie chickens.

"A lot of people don't like it still," Pitman said of the five-state plan. "But we are starting to get some enrollment."

That, he said, is providing the seed money to open an enrollment period for landowners willing to implement conservation practices.

He's hoping the enrollment can be done quickly so the five-state group can show FWS how much interest there is.

"We've got industry in all phases of enrollment," he said.

He declined to say how much has been collected pending a group-wide release of the information, something that's been in the works for more than a week now.

Participation in the plan is considered voluntary, but it offers protection if the birds are killed in the course of business.