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Prairie chicken status changing

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

The lesser prairie chicken could be making its way out of the casting room and into the spotlight of the federal endangered species list.

"The feds are taking a run at listing the lesser prairie chicken," said Robin Jennison, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. "They did put that one on the fast track."

The bird, the majority of which are in Kansas, could move over from being considered as "warranted, but precluded" onto the list that would attach special protection to the species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January started working on the proposal that would add the lesser prairie chicken to the endangered species list, according to FWS spokeswoman Lesli Gray,

The bird also is listed in a settlement agreement between WildEarth Guardians and the federal wildlife agency.

Under the terms of that settlement, many, if not all, of the 251 species that are waiting in the wings for inclusion on the endangered species list would have to be dealt with.

That does not, however, mean they all will be going on the list. Instead, the federal agency simply needs to determine if they all still qualify.

And they must do so by September 2016.

Complicating both issues, however, is a recent proposal by Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, a conservative Republican. Last week, he offered an amendment on a bill -- the Economic Development Revitalization Act of 2011 -- that would prohibit adding the lesser prairie chicken to the endangered species list. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, offered a similar amendment preventing the listing of the southwest lizard, suggesting it would wreck the oil and gas industry in west Texas.

Both amendments come on the heels of stripping the gray wolf of endangered species status. That measure was approved earlier by the Senate and allowed to become law.

Ironically, in the same economic development bill, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., offered an amendment to protect the practice of burning pastures in the Flint Hills region.

What makes his proposal ironic is he cites the greater prairie chicken, less troubled than its smaller cousin, the lesser prairie chicken, as well as other birds as part of his justification to preserve burning in the region.

Even though Gray said the agency started working in January, a recovery plan is well off in the future.

It likely will be sometime in the summer of 2012 before that plan is assembled and ready to be unveiled for public comment, she said.

Any of the proposals listed in the plan probably won't take effect until sometime in 2013, she said.

FWS already has conducted a public session in Woodward, Okla., something of a hot spot for lesser prairie chicken activity because of wind developments there.

Gray said the agency is looking at conducting a similar meeting in Kansas, although no dates have been scheduled. Meetings will take place in all five states where the bird can be found, she said.