By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

The seven-member threatened and endangered species committee soon must decide if they want to see the lesser prairie chicken added to the state's endangered species list.

While that won't be the final challenge, it's going to be an uphill struggle for that to happen.

Already, the ad hoc committee of lesser prairie chicken experts created to provide advice to the T&E committee voted 7-2 against putting the bird on the list. And there's no indication the groups that asked the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks to add the lesser prairie chicken to the list even attended any of the four public meetings recently conducted.

How much of a factor that will ultimately play is uncertain, but it's not something that escaped the notice of KDWP personnel, three of whom are on the T&E committee. Other members include Mark Eberle and Elmer Finck, both in the biological sciences department at Fort Hays State University.

Generally speaking, all four information meetings were lightly attended.

"The presentations were good," said Ed Miller, coordinator of KDWP's endangered species program, "but it would have been nice to have more people there."

With the meetings out of the way, the task will turn to the seven-member T&E committee, scheduled to meet Tuesday to craft its recommendation.

That recommendation will then go to KDWP Secretary Mike Hayden.

"I don't think he will make a recommendation until he bounces it off the commission," Miller said, referring to the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission, which would ultimately render a decision on listing -- if it goes that far.

The final decision on listing couldn't be done until after a 90-day comment period and a public hearing by the commission.

The committee's decision, Miller said, is simply a recommendation.

"We will look at scientific reasons," he said of what the committee will do. "He could have social-political reasons that he could consider."

The committee's task is difficult, Miller said, because there's plenty to consider.

The lesser prairie chicken is troubled, that much is certain, but Kansas is perhaps its greatest stronghold.

While the bird is found in five states, about half of them are in Kansas.

But even in Kansas, threats abound.

There's concern about the sheer number of acres of land that will be going out of the popular Conservation Reserve Program, which has been beneficial for the birds.

"There's not one solid trend on prairie chickens," Miller said.

There have been new leks form in the wake of development of CRP.

But the development of wind energy is troublesome because prairie chickens generally avoid tall structures.

How much effect wind farms might have on lesser prairie chickens is uncertain.

Even the experts are opposed to the addition of the lesser prairie chicken to the endangered species list.

"That's going to weigh pretty heavily on the outcome, I think," Miller said.

Members of that group suggested that efforts to help the bird are under way, he said, and should be allowed to play out. Another said landowners might be less cooperative in conservation efforts, fearing that listing might affect how they mange their land.

One didn't want the bird listed so that it would remain eligible for federal money as well as maintaining the tradition of hunting.