TOPEKA (KSNT) – Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach sat down for an exclusive interview with Kansas Capitol Bureau to talk about the next steps in a legal battle over the lesser prairie-chicken; a rare, wild bird found in western parts of the state.
Kobach said the state entered the lawsuit Tuesday, after mounting frustrations over a federal rule listing the chicken as a threatened species.
Kobach said the listing could have consequences for Kansas farmers and ranchers, who would be limited to asking the federal government for permission when cattle grazing and other tasks.
“It’s such a heavy sledgehammer to hit landowners with when you start telling them, ‘OK you can’t do this. You can’t graze cattle the way you want. You can’t drill oil,’” he explained.
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Kansas joined the lawsuit with Texas and Oklahoma after an amended complaint was filed.
According to the lawsuit, the listing fails to adequately consider pre-existing and ongoing voluntary measures to protect the lesser prairie-chickens, as well as the fact that rainfall amounts are the dominant factor in prairie-chicken populations.
“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.”
The lawsuit also argues that the listing restricts the personal property rights of Kansas landowners, and that it is unconstitutional.
However, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials argue that the listing is protecting the chicken from extinction. According to the agency, while voluntary conservation efforts have helped conserve key habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken, it has not curbed the trends of habitat loss and fragmentation facing the lesser prairie-chicken. They estimate that about 90% of the bird’s habitat is gone, as of last year, and about 32,000 birds remain.
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“There are species that are truly endangered but there are also cases where the act is abused… in a case where the species really isn’t endangered and that’s the case with the lesser prairie-chicken,” Kobach told Kansas Capitol Bureau.
Kansas Capitol Bureau also reached out to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for comment. Aislinn Maestas, a spokeswoman said Wednesday the agency does not comment on ongoing litigation. Instead, they’re pointing to their Species Status Assessment listed on their website.
To read the full complaint filed by Kansas, click here.