Topeka Johnson County officials on Thursday urged legislators to remove two snakes — the redbelly and smooth earth — from state protection.
State Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, said residents in a neighborhood in her district were shocked to learn that a green area behind their homes was slated to become a protected habitat for the snakes.
"You can imagine; they had things for their kids in the backyards to play on leading up to that green area," Pilcher-Cook told the Senate Natural Resources Committee.
State Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, said providing habitat for the snakes increased the cost of public and private development. "We're putting these snakes where our kids play. I just think it's a waste of taxpayer money," he said.
Both nonvenomous snakes are listed as threatened species under state law, not federal law. While the snakes are common in many Midwestern states, they are scarce in Kansas.
But Kansas Secretary of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Robin Jennison said that Senate Bill 281 was bad public policy.
Jennison said de-listing the two snakes would circumvent the scientific process of deciding which species to protect. He said that process is based on sighting data, literature searches, expert input and informational meetings.
And, he said, both snakes are currently under review by the state agency with a decision expected by October on whether to keep them on the threatened species list.
In addition, he said, the fact that there are few of these snakes in Kansas shouldn't matter. "It is important to recognize that species in decline tend to collapse toward the periphery of the range," he said. The committee took no action on the measure.