Topeka The Kansas Farm Bureau says it supports protection but wants the state, and not private property owners, to pay for conservation measures required by state law.
One of the Kansas Farm Bureau's legislative priorities this year is lobbying for changes to a 20-year-old state law intended to protect animals threatened with extinction in Kansas.
The state's biggest farm group is backing a bill that would place a permanent freeze on additions to the state threatened and endangered species list -- a proposal that has drawn sharp criticism from environmental organizations.
Still, the Farm Bureau's president, Gary Hall, says there's room for compromise to meet the concerns of farmers while still protecting endangered wildlife.
"We don't want a permanent ban," Hall told the Journal-World. "We want a moratorium for a period of time, maybe a year or two, until criteria can be developed for new additions to the list."
Of greatest concern to the Farm Bureau, Hall said, is that property owners be compensated if they are forced to change the management of their land to protect wildlife.
"It's an issue of private property rights" Hall said. "Farmers and ranchers are the best stewards of that land and should be compensated for doing so."
Politicizing the process
The bill, SB 473, is now in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. At least two other endangered species bills, both believed to be less sweeping, are expected to be considerd by the Legislature.
As it is worded now, the bill would impose a permanent ban on additions to the state endangered species list. But Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, said she doubted a permanent ban would make it through the Senate, at least not with her support.
And she said scientific data should drive decisions about whether a species merits special protections.
"We don't want to politicize that kind of process," she said.
Biologists say sound scientific criteria are already in place to determine which animals should be added to the endangered species list.
They also say the state Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act is crucial not only for the animals it protects -- it doesn't protect any plants -- but for identifying regions of Kansas under environmental stress.
"Most threatened and endangered species put on the list are indicator species of the environment they live in," said Jerry Horak, a threatened and endangered species specialist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, which oversees the list and efforts to protect animals on it.
"For instance, some of the rivers have a lot of fish and mussels dying out. That's an indication we're screwing up the rivers."
A lot of teeth to it
The list was established in 1975, two years after the federal government created endangered species protections credited with saving bald eagles.
The state law requires protection of habitat of animals threatened within Kansas. It now includes 57 threatened or endangered species, plus 69 other animals considered in need of conservation, a lower priority.
"It has a lot of teeth to it, particularly if you compare it to state threatened and endangered species laws in a lot of other states," said Bill Busby, an assistant scientist with the Kansas Biological Survey, headquartered in Lawrence.
It's the law that six years ago forced Douglas County to buy a 20-acre tract of land at the intersection of 35th Street and Haskell Avenue to build a pond for northern crayfish frogs, which were threatened with displacement by construction of the proposed South Lawrence Trafficway, a still incomplete highway that is to loop south and west of Lawrence to link Interstate 70 with Kansas Highway 10.
And it's the same law that Flint Hills farmers fear could disrupt plans to build flood control dams in the handful of streams inhabited by the Topeka shiner, a fish that has been recommended for addition to the state threatened and endangered species list.
Horak hopes legislators will take note of surveys that have found widespread support for protection of endangered species.
Bill Craven, the Topeka lobbyist for the Kansas Natural Resource Council and the Kansas Sierra Club, views the proposal as a "frontal assault" on one of the state's most important environmental laws.
The proposals is similar, in spirit, to attacks on federal environmental laws that have thus far largely failed in the 104th Congress, Craven said.
"It's fairly safe to say that the war on the environment in Kansas still has life," Craven said.
Still, he's hopeful that compromise legislation can be developed with the Farm Bureau.
Threatened and Endangered
The Kansas threatened and endangered species list includes 12 animals also included on the federal endangered species list. The rest are considered in danger of extinction in Kansas but may have viable populations in other states. Some, like the nearly extinct black-footed ferret, haven't been seen in Kansas in decades.
Invertebrates: American burying beetle; bleedingtooth mussel; elktoe mussel; flat floater mussel; Neosho mucket mussel; rabbitsfoot mussel; Scott riffle beetle; slender Walker snail; western fanshell mussel.
Fish: Arkansas River shiner; pallid sturgeon; sicklefin chub; speckled chub.
Amphibians: cave salamander; graybelly salamander; grotto salamander.
Birds: bald eagle; black-capped vireo; Eskimo curlew; least tern; peregrine falcon; whooping crane.
Mammals: black-footed ferret; gray myotis.
Invertebrates: butterfly, fluted shell, Ouachita kidneyshell and rock pocketbook mussels.
Fish: Arkansas and blackside darters; chestnut lamprey; flathead, hornyhead, sturgeon and redspot chub; Neosho madtom; silverband shiner; western silvery minnow
Amphibians: central newt, dark-sided salamander; eastern narrowmouth toad; green frog; northern spring peeper; strecker's chorus frog; western green toad.
Reptiles: broadhead skink; checkered garter snake; common map turtle; New Mexico blind snake; northern redbelly snake; Texas longnose snake; Texas night snake; western earth snake.
Birds: piping plover; snowy plover; white-faced ibis.
Mammals: eastern spotted skunk.
-- Source: Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks