Kansas: Brownback bristles at prairie chicken change
Topeka Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback criticized the federal government’s decision to add the lesser prairie chicken to its list of threatened species Thursday as an “overreach,” and a spokeswoman said his office is considering a lawsuit.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s move came as Kansas legislators are considering a measure to declare that the state has the sole authority within its borders to manage the population and habitat of both the lesser prairie chicken and its larger and darker cousin, the greater prairie chicken.
But Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas, said filing a lawsuit to challenge the decision would be “political grandstanding” and that the state should instead concentrate on rebuilding lesser prairie chicken’s numbers.
The federal agency’s decision, set to take effect around May 1, could affect agriculture, oil and gas drilling, wind farms and other activities in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico. Brownback said he’s concerned the decision will hurt the state’s economy.
“This is an overreach on the part of the federal government,” Brownback said in a statement. “We are looking at possible responses on this issue.”
Asked whether that includes a lawsuit, Brownback spokeswoman Sara Belfry said: “That certainly is a possible response.” Attorney General Derek Schmidt also said in a statement that his office is “assessing our legal options.”
Last year, the lesser prairie chicken’s population across the five states declined to fewer than 18,000 birds, or nearly 50 percent lower than 2012 population estimates. Klataske said drought is a major reason, particularly because state officials sought successfully to have land enrolled in a federal conservation program opened to grazing and hay production.
The bill asserting the state’s authority over prairie-chicken management — and making it a felony for any federal employee to enforce laws, rules or treaties dealing with the birds — was approved overwhelmingly last month by the Republican-dominated state Senate. The measure is now pending in GOP-controlled House.
U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Republican representing the 1st District of western and central Kansas, said President Barack Obama’s administration is threatening energy production and the property rights of farmers and ranchers. But he acknowledged that the federal government could have gone farther and listed the bird as endangered — with less flexibility in conservation measures.
“Nevertheless, an effective conservation effort must be strictly voluntary if private property is to be respected and our rural way of life to be protected,” Huelskamp said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, another Kansas Republican, said the federal agency’s decision will have “real consequences” for the economy but pledged to work with federal officials.
“I am confident there are ways to address conserving the species while not hampering economic growth and farming and ranching activities,” Moran said in a statement.
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