Lesser Prairie Chickens at center of huge controversy

WICHITA, Kansas — The lesser prairie chicken is at the center of a big fight between a group of states including Kansas and the federal government. At stake is millions of dollars.

It’s called the lesser prairie chicken and it’s recent listing as a threatened species is ruffling feathers.

Five states including Kansas are banding together to sue the Federal Government saying the decision will bring added regulations that could cost the state millions.

The premise of all this begins with the dwindling population of the lesser prairie chicken.

At the height of the bird’s population it was far-reaching and spread five states including Kansas. But now the population has dwindled to less than 18,000 which is half of the 2012 total. Because of this dramatic drop the federal government decided to add the bird to the threatened species list.

Jon Callen is the president of Edmiston Oil Company in Wichita and he says the federal government’s ruling to put the lesser prairie chicken on the threatened species list will hurt both the energy industry and landowners. Callen adds that the long term effects of what could be made off a well during it’s 15-year life span would be hard to replace.

“It could be anywhere from a half million to $2 million,” said Callen. “You start to multiply that by 6,000 wells and it starts to add up.”

The state’s Wildlife and Fishery Agency has tried to combat the dwindling population of the lesser prairie chicken before this decision was ever handed down. They put forth a conservation plan that has $4 million acres enrolled in protecting the bird’s habitat.

“More than $20 million has been paid by industries into the plan and being redirected to landowners to protect prairie chicken habitat,” said Callen.

The Federal Wildlife and Fish Agency will continue to uphold the conservation plan but it’s a decision that still has lawmakers here fuming. Governor Sam Brownback is joining forces with Oklahoma in filing a lawsuit against the federal government.

“This is an overreach by the federal government and is another example of the Obama administration aggressively and unnecessarily intruding into our daily lives,” said Brownback.

The action is being taken in part because Brownback says the conservation plan is enough and adding the prairie chicken to the threatened list is overstepping their boundaries.

Federal officials say the move is critical to protecting the prairie chicken and that they’re following the best science available.

The difference between “threatened” and “endangered” can confuse some but the federal government distinguishes by using these definitions.

Endangered means the species is on the brink of extinction and threatened means the species will likely become endangered in the near future. An animal just being threatened gives states more flexibility in how they carryout conservation efforts.

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