Special to The Hays Daily News

SALINA -- Applications for participation in a national Lesser prairie chicken Initiative designed to improve the Lesser prairie chicken habitat will be accepted through March 4.

This initiative will also simultaneously promote the overall health of grazing lands and the long-term sustainability of Kansas ranching operations. Kansas has received a $2 million allocation for this initiative.

"Our intent," said Eric B. Banks, state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Kansas, "is to target technical and financial assistance on expired or expiring Conservation Reserve Program fields that will be maintained in permanent cover and used for grazing."

Financial assistance is being offered to establish and maintain permanent vegetation benefitting the LEPC habitat on cropland and grazing lands in 34 targeted counties: Barber, Clark, Comanche, Edwards, Ellis, Finney, Ford, Gove, Grant, Gray, Greeley, Hamilton, Haskell, Hodgeman, Kearny, Kiowa, Lane, Logan, Meade, Morton, Ness, Pawnee, Rush, Pratt, Scott, Seward, Sherman, Stafford, Stanton, Stevens, Thomas, Trego, Wallace and Wichita. Conservation practices, such as fencing, water development and others would be available for financial assistance to aid in developing and enhancing the existing cover.

"Many of the expired CRP acres are large fields feasible to graze, but they lack fencing, water development and grazing plans," Banks said.

"In 2010, this was a very successful initiative in Kansas in improving the Lesser prairie chicken habitat," Banks said. "Producers entered into 64 contracts and enrolled 28,282 acres for which over $1.4 million were obligated in the targeted counties.

"This initiative is also available to help address the unique circumstances and concerns of socially disadvantaged, limited resource, and beginning farmers and ranchers who are interested in improving Lesser prairie chicken habitat on their land," Banks said.

"In Kansas, socially disadvantaged, limited resource and beginning farmers and ranchers will receive a higher payment rate for conservation practices related to this initiative."

In addition to Kansas, four other states -- Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas -- have significant expiring CRP acreage and have counties with populations of LEPC. These states are also taking part in this LPCI.

For additional information go to the Kansas NRCS web page at www.ks.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/lepc or contact the local NRCS field office.