Topeka — Three conservation groups on Thursday filed their intention to sue federal wildlife officials, alleging the government is not doing enough to protect the lesser prairie chicken in Kansas and four other states.
"Drought and habitat destruction are devastating the small remaining population of this magnificent grassland bird," said Jay Lininger, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The announcement comes as Gov. Sam Brownback has directed state officials to file a lawsuit, seeking to block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from designating the bird as a threatened species.
Brownback said Fish and Wildlife's action represents an overreach of the federal government's authority and will hurt Kansas by putting new restrictions on land use to protect the bird.
In addition, the Legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit federal officials from enforcing laws in Kansas to protect the lesser prairie chicken.
The conservation groups say Fish and Wildlife's special exemptions in putting the lesser prairie chicken on the the threatened list will allow further destruction of the bird and its habitat.
A state-level conservation plan touted by Fish and Wildlife lacks enforcement and designates only a small area of habitat to sustain adequate breeding populations, the conservation groups say.
"This decision is a recipe for further declines of a rare and beautiful bird already teetering on the brink of extinction," said Jason Rylander, senior attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. WildEarth Guardians is the third group poised to sue Fish and Wildlife.
In 2013, only 17,616 lesser prairie chickens were found in Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. That is down from 34,400 birds in 2012.
Fish and Wildlife officials have said they don't comment on possible litigation.
In announcing that it was putting the lesser prairie chicken on the threatened list, the agency said the states' conservation plan has a goal of 67,000 birds range-wide.