Western Kansans challenge Prairie Chicken listing

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has put the Lesser-Prairie Chicken on the threatened species list and industries including agriculture, wind energy, and oil are facing strict guidelines to protect the animal.  Some say the change would increase productions costs to unmanageable levels.

“They buy habitat and they restore habitat with those moneys, that’s the concept,” said Jim Carlson, the Executive Director of the Kansas Natural Resource Coalition.

The KNRC said the Federal government over-reached and ignored its own rules and regulations, including doing an environmental impact report that would have shown the listing would negatively affect local industry.

Southwest Kansas and the surrounding areas have the highest numbers of prairie chicken left today, but there are less than 20,000 left in the world.

The KNRC and Finney and Kearny County Commissioners said they agree the chicken population is falling, but that it isn’t because of industry destroying their habitat, it’s the drought.

“[Prairie Chicken] numbers in the last few years, it’s due to drought,” said Kearny County Counselor Kevin Campbell.  “The same as with the ring necked pheasant, you can’t find any of them either.”

“When it starts raining again, they’ll come back,” said Carlson.

With support from 32 counties in Western Kansas, the KNRC has sent detailed summaries to Washington saying why it isn’t in anyone’s best interest to make this a federal issue.

“The local population is in a much better position, we’re in a better position economically and we’re in a better position because we care about the land,” said Carlson.  “We understand the prairie chicken.”

With letters and reports sent to the capital, Kansans are hoping to reach an agreement.  If they don’t, Carlson said it could potentially lead to judicial proceedings.

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