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July 11, 2014

Kan. to implement breeding program for prairie chicken

TOPEKA, — Kansas will develop a program for breeding lesser prairie chickens in hopes of getting the federal government to back off its listing of the bird as a threatened species, Gov. Sam Brownback announced Thursday.

An Audubon of Kansas leader labeled the idea “far-fetched” and said it won’t work because game birds bred in captivity typically don’t have the skills necessary to survive long in the wild.

Brownback, a Republican and a strong critic of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s decision to list the bird as threatened, said he directed the Kansas Department of Agriculture and the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to draft a plan for such a program.

Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said the program would round up prairie chickens in the wild, have them mate in captivity and then release them.

The bird’s listing as threatened means the federal government has oversight of state preservation efforts.

It affects Kansas as well as four other states with prairie chicken habitats — Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Kansas has taken multiple steps to challenge the listing. Brownback and other officials contend it will damage the economy because farmers, ranchers and oil and natural gas producers face restrictions on their operations and potentially hefty conservation fees.

The federal agency said in March the listing was justified by a decline of nearly 50 percent in the lesser prairie chicken’s population between 2012 and 2013.

The federal government must sign off on a captive breeding program for the bird, and Brownback said the state will seek the required permit.

“We know there will be challenges to this program, but I believe it is worth the effort to restore the chicken’s population and get this federal regulatory burden off the backs of hard-working Kansans,” Brownback said in a statement.

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