Kansas joins lawsuit against Biden administration on lesser prairie chicken

Lawsuit asserts that 2,806 birds populate Shinnery Oak Prairie Ecoregion in eastern NM and southern Texas

By: - April 13, 2023 4:10 am

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach aligned with Texas and Oklahoma in a federal lawsuit designed to challenge listing of the lesser prairie chicken as threatened in Kansas. (Photo by Greg Kramos / USFWS)

TOPEKA — Attorney General Kris Kobach aligned Kansas with Texas and Oklahoma in a lawsuit crafted to block the federal government’s listing of the wild, colorful lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act.

On Wednesday, Kobach said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service broke federal law by failing to adequately consider voluntary measures to protect the birds and by ignoring the critical role of rainfall in rise and fall of prairie chicken populations. The attorney general said the federal edict would unconstitutionally interfere with property rights of Kansas landowners.

“These D.C. bureaucrats have probably never even stepped foot in the state of Kansas, let alone seen a prairie chicken,” Kobach said. “Yet, there they sit in their offices 1,000 miles away making decisions that will directly affect Kansans’ lives.”

He said the listing would make drilling new oil wells in western Kansas almost impossible and would compel ranchers to secure approval from federally designated agencies to graze cattle on their own land.

“It will have devastating impacts on Kansas ranchers, Kansas oil producers and even Kansas wind farms. And on top of that, it’s illegal,” Kobach said.

The lawsuit asserted the federal agency failed to adequately consider pre-existing and ongoing voluntary measures to protect the lesser prairie chickens and to account for natural periods of plentiful moisture and drought.

“Lesser prairie chicken numbers are substantially driven by rainfall,” Kobach said. “Historically, their numbers decline when there is a drought, but they rebound dramatically once the rain returns.”

In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the effective date of the final rule to list the lesser prairie chicken would be delayed until March 27.

The lesser prairie chicken once numbered in the hundreds of thousands, but the population declined significantly due to native grassland habitat loss in the Great Plains. The bird occupies a range that included portions of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

In response to a review of scientific and commercial information about the birds, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the southern population as endangered and the northern population as threatened. The southern zone encompassed populations in eastern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle. The northern area covered southeastern Colorado, southcentral to western Kansas, western Oklahoma and the northeast Texas panhandle.

Members of the Kansas congressional delegation have sought to derail protected status for the lesser prairie chicken.

“Farmers, ranchers  and others in Kansas and the region have been instrumental in the recovery of the species to this point while the climate activists demanding this rule have no understanding of the threat it poses to Kansas’s economy, especially the energy and ag industries,” said U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas.

Rep. Tracey Mann, the Kansas Republican serving the 1st District stretching from the Colorado border to Lawrence, said it was wrong for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to impose burdensome regulations without input from Congress.

He said the federal government ought to eliminate environmental barriers applicable the agriculture and energy sectors rather than “hamstringing hardworking Americans with government overreach.”

This story was originally published by the Kansas Reflector. It is republished here with permission.

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Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector
Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.

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