By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Adding the lesser prairie chicken to the federal endangered species list could affect hunting in Kansas.

"That could be an issue," Robin Jennison, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, said of what listing of the lesser prairie chicken might mean for Kansas hunters.

In Kansas, the bird's health is relatively good, although just last year the Kansas Ornithological Society asked KDWP to add it to the state's endangered species list.

The state's wildlife group declined to do so, citing a stable to growing population, even though it also signaled a number of threats facing the birds.

"We've got a growing population of lesser prairie chickens in Kansas," Jennison said.

That would suggest the bird, at least in Kansas, doesn't need federal or state protection.

"The science would say we can continue to hunt them and not hurt the population," Jennison said. "That's completely different than disturbing the habitat."

Loss of habitat is perhaps the biggest barrier to lesser prairie chickens, which like large, unbroken expanses of native grass. The growth of land enrolled in the popular Conservation Reserve Program is the reason for the Kansas increase in lesser prairie chicken populations.

The habitat losses are the reason why KDWP has urged power line developers to move a high-voltage line away from prime lesser prairie chicken area.

"It did go through what was good prairie chicken habitat in the red hills," he said.

But because the lesser prairie chicken isn't on any list of endangered species, Jennison said the agency has no authority to restrict where a power line can go.

"The department does not have any regulatory ability on that," he said. "We advise."

Jennison is convinced there's no need for the agency to have that power either.

"I think the role we have is the appropriate role," he said.