By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

As expected, lesser prairie chickens in Kansas won't be going on the state's endangered species list anytime soon.

The recommendation offered by the state's threatened and endangered species committee is expected to be accepted by Mike Hayden, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

That was Hayden's response when Steve Sorensen, representing the Kansas Wildlife Federation, wanted to know what the T&E committee's recommendation would have on the birds.

The committee, after several internal meetings and three not-so-well attended public meetings, voted 5-to-2 to recommend that the lesser prairie chicken remain unlisted. Because of that, the bird will remain as a game species and can be hunted.

The Kansas Ornithological Society and six Audubon chapters had asked KDWP to list the bird as endangered. Kansas is in the best shape in terms of population, accounting for more than half of all the birds in the prairie chicken's range.

T&E coordinator Ed Miller presented the committee's finding to the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission last week in Mankato. Other than a couple brief questions, the topic was basically passed over.

It was at the evening session when Sorensen asked and was told Hayden would accept the committee's recommendation.

Sorensen said he's OK with that, so long as the popular Conservation Reserve Program remains intact and healthy. He's especially encouraged that a CRP sign-up period -- under way through Aug. 27 -- is giving special emphasis to land within the lesser prairie chicken's range.

"If something comes down with CRP, then it's a different situation," Sorensen said.

There had been concerns about the fate of the CRP program because contracts covering hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Kansas have been allowed to expire, with no indication of any new enrollment periods.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, reopened the enrollment period earlier this month, and created priority areas covering much of the area inhabited by lesser prairie chickens.

"I think we're looking at a pretty good situation," Sorensen said of lesser prairie chickens, noting that the increase in population over the past 20 years is tied directly to the popularity and benefits from CRP.

"As long as that program is humming and running along, I think we're in pretty good shape," he said.

While that's true in Kansas, that's not the case in other lesser prairie chicken states, which includes Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico.

There's also a question about when -- or if -- the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take action on placing the bird on the endangered species list.

Currently, lesser prairie chickens are a step away from being placed on the list, and state officials speculate that as soon as the money is available for a management plan, the bird will be listed.