Lesser Prairie Chicken complaint ( .PDF )
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Topeka Kansas has officially joined a lawsuit that challenges federal designation of the lesser prairie chicken as a species in need of protection, the state attorney general’s office announced Wednesday.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tulsa, Okla., opposes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing of the bird as a “threatened” species.
Meanwhile, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said a House committee “gutted” a bill meant to keep the federal government out of Kansas’ business when it comes to the lesser prairie chicken.
On Tuesday, the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee approved a bill that declares that the federal government has no authority to regulate prairie chickens. But the committee removed a Senate-approved provision that would have made it a felony for a federal employee to try to enforce federal laws to protect the bird.
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.
“After reviewing the best available science and on-the-ground conservation efforts focused on the species, the Service determined that the lesser prairie-chicken is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future and warrants listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act,” the federal agency said.
Kansas officials, however, say much of the drop off in population has been caused by the recent drought and that once normal weather patterns resume, the bird’s numbers will increase.
Gov. Sam Brownback has said the “threatened” listing represents an overreach by the federal government and will harm development of oil, gas and agriculture.
Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas, said the “threatened” listing and range-wide conservation plan put together by the five states will have a positive impact on Kansas, while helping the lesser prairie chicken rebound from its precipitous decline.
He said landowners in southwestern Kansas might be able to receive additional federal dollars to help enhance the habitat of the lesser prairie chicken.
“Landowners are actually going to be benefitted by this,” Klataske said.
The litigation is being led by the state of Oklahoma and has also been joined by the state of North Dakota.
In a 51-page complaint, Kansas officials allege Fish and Wildlife did not make its decision based on the best available scientific data. The states claim the agency decision was the result of an earlier court decision, based on a lawsuit by an environmental group, in which Fish and Wildlife agreed to consider numerous species for listing. Fish and Wildlife officials say they don’t comment on pending litigation.
In a related decision, a federal judge rejected an appeal of that earlier agreement that had been lodged by the National Association of Home Builders and other industry groups.