Topeka State wildlife officials have proposed shutting down prairie chicken hunting in southwest Kansas.
The action is being taken to comply with a recent federal listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a "threatened" species, Christopher Tymeson, chief legal counsel for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said Tuesday.
There is currently a prairie chicken hunting season and while the target is the more abundant greater prairie chicken, sometimes lesser prairie chickens, which are smaller than greater prairie chickens, end up being killed, Tymeson said.
Hunters kill fewer than 100 lesser prairie chickens each year, he said. But to try to ensure no lesser prairie chickens are killed in hunting, the agency is proposing closing down the prairie chicken hunting season in southwest Kansas, covering an area of all or part of 28 counties. That is where most lesser prairie chickens are found in Kansas. Currently, the season runs from the third Wednesday in November until Dec. 31.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared the lesser prairie chicken a threatened species because of an alarming drop off in the bird's population.
Once abundant across Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Colorado, the lesser prairie chicken’s grassland habitat has been reduced by 84 percent, and in 2013, the population fell to a record low of fewer than 18,000 birds, which was nearly a 50 percent reduction from 2012, according to Fish and Wildlife.
But state officials, led by Gov. Sam Brownback, have filed a lawsuit against Fish and Wildlife to take the bird off the threatened list.
And legislators are working on a bill aimed at blocking federal officials from enforcing regulations associated with the threatened listing.
Tymeson said the proposed closing prairie chicken hunting in southwest Kansas will be decided by the KDWPT Commission in June.