The voice of reason on a bill concerning protections for prairie chickens in Kansas appears to be coming from State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence.
The legislation approved by a Kansas Senate committee last week sets the stage for the state to pick a fight with the federal government not unlike the spectacle of two puffed-up male prairie chickens strutting their stuff during mating season. Only in this case, the state is unlikely to succeed in any effort to usurp the powers of the federal government.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently is considering the possibility of listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. No decision on the designation has been made, but Kansas legislators, with the support of Secretary of State Kris Kobach, already are preparing for a fight over an issue that they say will have a negative impact on some state agriculture and energy interests.
The bill approved in committee declares that any law that protects either the Greater or Lesser Prairie Chicken would be null and void in Kansas. Never mind the problems with the state seeking to prosecute federal officers who are doing their job.
Also never mind that, as Sen. Francisco pointed out, wildlife officials in Kansas and four other states with significant prairie chicken populations already are working with federal officials on a voluntary mitigation plan. According to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, five oil and gas companies already have enrolled 1.5 million acres in a conservation plan developed by The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and state wildlife agencies in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
On another note, Francisco also advised fellow legislators not to vote on the bill until they have an official estimate on how much it would cost the state to defend its position against the federal government in court. Those estimates might well make pursuit of a voluntary agreement look more attractive.
Francisco is making a common-sense argument on the Lesser Prairie Chicken issue. State officials should put more effort into saving this native species and less into setting up a legal fight with the federal government.