By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

A $1 million grant has been awarded to Kansas and four other states to implement programs designed to help the beleaguered lesser prairie chicken.

The grant money, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will be combined with matching money to implement a decade-long program, according to Jim Pitman, small game coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

The money will pay for removing trees from pastures, cost-sharing help with landowners to build perimeter fences to keep land in grass and perhaps pay for deferred grazing.

All of that will go to help the lesser prairie chicken, which inhabit an area in west-central and southwest Kansas.

Of all the lesser prairie chicken states, Kansas is the most robust, compared to Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Kansas has an estimated breeding population of somewhere between 14,000 and 21,000 birds, enough to support a tightly regulated hunting season. In a normal year, hunters will kill between 200 to 500 birds.

Despite that, KDWP is reviewing the status of lesser prairie chickens after they were petitioned by leading birding groups in the state. Those birding groups asked for an emergency listing of the bird as an endangered species.

That emergency listing was denied, but a routine inquiry is under way.

According to the FWS, which announced the grant Monday, the lesser prairie chicken is just a single step away from being placed on the federal endangered species list.

Kansas will be getting the lion's share of the FWS grant, in part because it ponied up the largest matching grant of about $150,000.