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Prairie chicken killing jobs in western Kansas

These days, when Kyle Randa scouts a new location for an oil well, his schedule is a little different.

He’s up early to drive out to the spot. But rather than get right to work, for a few hours he sits, waits and listens.

And hopes he doesn’t hear the booming call of the now-infamous lesser prairie chicken.

Like countless others in Western Kansas, Randa’s job has been upended by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service move to list the small grouse as a threatened species. With the March decision came new rules, regulations and the threat of fines for disturbing the bird.

While folks in the oil and gas industry are now restricted where they can work — it costs as much as $45,000 in fines to tear up a single acre of lesser prairie chicken habitat — it goes beyond that. Randa, who works for Mull Drilling of Ness City, used to start his days by 6 a.m. or earlier, but now he and other oil patch workers are barred from going anywhere near a rig before 9 a.m.

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