KDWP&T OKs regional ban on prairie chicken hunting
By MIKE CORN
Hunters no longer will be able to go afield in search of prairie chickens -- greater or lesser -- in nearly a third of the state, according to action taken Thursday by the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission.
Commissioners voted to close virtually all of southwest Kansas, following Interstate 70 and Kansas highways 24 and 18 on the north before heading south in a stair-step pattern starting on U.S. Highway 183 in Plainville south to Medicine Lodge.
The change was prompted by the recent listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Initially, it looked as if lesser prairie chicken hunting might continue, so long as it was incidental to hunting greater prairie chickens -- virtually impossible to differentiate in flight as well as in the game bag.
But Jim Pitman, the state wildlife agency's small game coordinator, said discussions with the federal agency changed the rules.
"While incidental take is allowed," he said, "possession is not."
Leaving southwest Kansas open places a huge burden on hunters, he said.
"What we've decided to do is modify our hunt unit boundaries to exclude virtually all of our lesser prairie chicken territory.
A small slice of southeast Ellis County and northeast Rush County would remain open, but Pitman said only two lesser prairie chickens have been taken in those areas, and that was in 2011.
The southwest corner of Rooks County also would be closed by the new unit.
"To go farther east would eliminate a lot of good hunting in Russell and Osborne counties," Pitman said.
Early on, FWS suggested the state might be able to keep much of the area north of the Arkansas River open to hunting, including lesser prairie chicken when greater chickens were the quarry.
"Our intent all along was to maintain hunting in that area," he said. "They provided that language to us. After the listing, they decided incidental take was allowed but possession was not. We tried to keep that area open because it does harbor out greatest prairie chicken density in the state."
All five commissioners attending voted for the change, but one asked Pitman to invite a representative of FWS to the next meeting when the birds are discussed.
That brought laughter to those attending.
"I think it's likely there will be something related to the chickens to talk about," Pitman said.