While appreciating the plight of the threatened lesser prairie chicken, the Barton County Commission Wednesday morning approved participating in a Kansas Natural Resource Coalition lawsuit seeking to block a U.S. Fish and Wildlife rule protecting the bird. The LPC’s range covers much of southwest Kansas and nearby states, but it has yet to call Barton County home, commissioners noted.
“The listing has come under fire from the Kansas congressional delegation, state legislators,” said County Administrator Matt Patzner. This includes a 60-day notice of intent to sue by the Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach.
In addition, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks recently also announced its disapproval of the listing due to an increase in the bird’s populations in Kansas.
“First of all, the lessor prairie chicken is probably very important,” said commission Chairman Shawn Hutchinson, District 4. “But there aren’t any in Barton County, so why would we try to impose restrictions on ourselves for something that is not here.”
On Nov. 25 2022, the FWS published a final rule listing the northern distinct population segment and the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species in Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and the northeastern portion of the Texas panhandle, and endangered in New Mexico and seven West Texas counties under the Endangered Species Act.
This was scheduled to go into effect Jan, 24, was later delayed by FWS until March 27.
“The KNRC currently has 30 member counties and is experiencing continual growth,” Patzner said. The rule “restricts farmers and ranchers by requiring grazing plans for livestock, and prevents conversion of the privately owned land to tillable acreage within LPC range.”
The KNRC represents the majority of the geographically defined lesser prairie chicken range in Kansas, he said
“The organization recently received an offer from the Natural Resource Coalition Pacific Legal Foundation, a public interest law firm, for free legal representation challenging the rule,” he said. The goal of this lawsuit is to set aside and force the FWS to study the matter further.
“Although we don’t have any lesser prairie chickens in Barton County, we do not want them listed under the Endangered Species Act because that will restrict landowner rights with what they can do with their own property,” said District 4 Commissioner Tricia Schlessiger.
Kansas AG threatens suit over lesser prairie chicken
BY TRIBUNE STAFF
Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach announced in January he will sue President Joe Biden’s administration unless the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withdraws a rule that lists the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species, action it took in November.
The rule change would require Kansas ranchers to seek the federal government’s permission to shift a cattle herd to a new field and tilling farm land. It also creates tougher restrictions for energy pipelines, roads, and other development, including oil drilling.
In his letter, Kobach noted efforts by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks to work with federal agencies, regional organizations, nonprofit organizations and private landowners to conserve the lesser prairie chicken and its habitat. Their efforts helped stabilize the lesser prairie chicken’s population and expansion of its range in Kansas.
Kobach argues that the Biden administration failed to adequately consider Kansas’ pre-existing and ongoing conservation and mitigation measures. Those efforts include relationships established by KDWP and private landowners and their voluntary actions to implement a range-wide conservation plan.
He also said the listing would restrict energy pipelines, road placement, cattle grazing and other developments, including oil drilling. In the letter, he argued that rainfall affected the bird populations, and that when the state’s current drought ended, lesser prairie chicken numbers would bounce back.
The bird, which is known for its colorful spring mating dance, can be found in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. The listing came after years of campaigning by wildlife advocates, including a 2019 lawsuit by three conservation groups. An estimated 90% of the bird’s habitat — unbroken tracts of native grasses — is gone. Only 32,000 lesser prairie chickens are left.
Kobach is not alone in his fight against protections for the bird. The Kansas Senate took emergency action Jan. 23 to adopt a resolution condemning federal protection of the lesser prairie chicken.