By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Money is the sticking point in moving ahead with putting the lesser prairie chicken on the endangered species list.

To do so, said Ken Collins, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Tulsa, Okla., his agency would require anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000. That would not include any sort of recovery plan -- something that would come after the bird was placed on the list.

The lesser prairie chicken is currently waiting in the wings of the federal endangered species program. It has been there since 1998, when a listing was considered warranted but precluded by higher priority species.

Earlier this month, WildearthGuardians, a Denver-based environmental group, filed a federal lawsuit against FWS objecting to the delay.

While Collins, the lead biologist on the prairie chicken issue, wouldn't comment on the lawsuit, he would talk about the birds and their status.

Currently, the lesser prairie chicken has a ranking of 2, the highest it can go given there is more than one species in its genus, which would include the greater prairie chicken.

"Now that it's a 2, it's a much higher priority," Collins said.

While the lesser and greater territory mixes in some parts of the state, generally the lesser prairie chicken inhabits the southwest quarter of the state, as well as parts of Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.

The next step in the process, at least for the lesser prairie chicken, is to go on the endangered species list.

Kansas' own endangered species coordinator, Ed Miller, said the federal government is simply waiting for the money to be allocated so that it can move ahead with listing the bird.

That's correct, Collins said.

"Until we have the funding to move forward, there isn't much we can do," he said.

The lesser prairie chicken is also relatively low for animals ranked as a category 2, he said. And it ranks well below animals that are affected by court rulings.

Even as long as lesser prairie chicken has been on the waiting list, the process to finally move it forward would be slow -- perhaps taking a year or two to actually make the process happen.

Once the decision is made, the proposal has to be published in the Federal Register, which opens what is generally a 90-day comment period.

"It's not a democratic process, where people vote yes or no," Collins said of the comment period. Instead, the agency looks to see if the action is justified.

With a new fiscal year just starting for the federal government, any money for the listing would have to come out of the 2011 budget at the earliest.

Lawsuits affect budgets as well, especially when a court requires the agency to take action.

"Lawsuits often change priorities and change time lines," Collins said.

While it's a small slice of the massive federal budget, but spending on the endangered species program in fiscal year 2008 amounted to $1.1 billion. Of that, $115 million was spent by states.

Fish are the greatest recipients of endangered species spending, accounting for nine of the top 10, and costing nearly $284 million.

Slightly more than $5 million is spent on the endangered whooping crane, making it 39th on the list of 1,014 species. At the low end of the spectrum, the yellow larkspur, known only to grow in Sonoma County, Calif., was allocated only $100.

Nine animals and two plants on the federal endangered species list are known to exist in Kansas.

Kansas has its own list as well, and includes 60 mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates. Kansas species added to the federal list are automatically put on the state list.

* The Kansas Ornithological Society has received official word that its request to add the lesser prairie chicken to the state's endangered species list has been denied.

The notice came in the form of a memorandum from Mike Hayden, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, to other officials within the agency.

"... I am accepting the recommendation of the threatened and endangered species task committee and denying the petition submitted by the Kansas Ornithological Society for listing of the lesser prairie chicken as threatened within the state of Kansas," Hayden's four-page memo states.

The T&E committee voted 5-to-2 to recommend the bird remain unlisted.