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Biologist calls idea 'ludicrous'

7/18/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Gov. Sam Brownback's latest suggestion directing the state's wildlife agency to artificially boost the state's lesser prairie chicken is "ludicrous," according to a respected upland game bird biologist.

Brownback last week announced he was directing the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to develop a plan for the captive breeding of the now-threatened species.

"We understand this will not be an easy undertaking," he said, "but it is worth it to restore the chicken's population and remove this federal regulatory burden from the back of Kansans."

"It's a ludicrous idea," said Randy Rodgers, who long worked as the state's upland game bird specialist in Hays. "There's virtually no chance of it working. Pen-reared birds don't do well in the wild."

Brownback's announcement came shortly after meeting with farmers about recent federal actions, notably the listing of the lesser prairie chicken as threatened and a proposal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer and the Environmental Protection Agency dealing with definitions under the federal Clean Water Act.

Agricultural groups have been up in arms about both instances.

"The combined effect of these two actions shows a continued pattern of intrusion into the lives of Kansans by the federal government," Brownback said. "The most recent actions by the Environmental Protection Agency, with proposed sweeping new definitions under the Clean Water Act shows a complete disregard for Kansas business, industry and farm and ranch families."

Among the groups meeting with Brownback was the Kansas Natural Resource Coalition, a loosely knit group of counties who banded together to object the listing of the lesser prairie chicken.

They had hoped Brownback would take up the mantle of the coalition's cause and file a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on its behalf.

"We had a good meeting," KNRC President Ken Klemm said.

He said they plan to meet with members of Brownback's staff, as well as Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, about the possibility of filing a lawsuit.

Klemm said it's still possible the state might file a lawsuit on the KNRC's behalf, but he said there was nothing definite.

Klemm also said he's unsure where Brownback came up with the idea of pen-reared birds, but he said it's something the state has done in the past.

Not so, said Rodgers, although it pen-reared both pheasants and quail at one time.

The pheasant facility was first operated in 1942, closing down several years later.

"I do know why it was closed," Rodgers said in an email, "the program was found to be ineffective."

The quail farm lasted longer but was closed for the same reason, he said.

It's also not yet certain how KDWP&T might start pen-raising prairie chickens.

Because the bird has been listed as threatened, Kansas would have to seek permission from the federal wildlife agency to either capture the birds or raid nests for hatching.

It's unclear what the process might be or if it would be approved.

"They're extremely difficult to raise," Rodgers said of prairie chickens and special release techniques have to be used.

Efforts have been made to pen-raise Attwater prairie chickens, but only as a last-ditch effort.

"It was a desperation move," Rodgers said as the species was down to just a few hundred birds.

But the cost of doing so has been astronomical, amounting to as much as $1,000 per bird.

"I don't see any reason why it would be any different than Attwater's," Rodgers said of the cost.