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Lesser prairie-chicken listing catches eye of state lawmakers

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By Dave Bergmeier

Kansas lawmakers watched with interest as the Sunflower State was one of five Western states recently notified the lesser prairie-chicken was being placed on the threatened species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Southwestern Kansas lawmakers including Sen. Garrett Love and Reps. Bud Estes, John Ewy, Ron Ryckman and John Doll, all Republicans, touched on the issue and others during a Dodge City Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Forum on April 12 at High Plains Journal’s Communication Center. The Legislature is on break before returning to the wrap-up session later this month.

If there was a slight silver lining on the lesser prairie-chicken being placed on the threatened list instead of the endangered species list, Estes, of Dodge City, said, ”You can get off the threatened list, but it is virtually impossible to get off the endangered species list.

No one knows the scope of the regulations yet, the lawmakers said.

If there is a couple of good production years and the bird counts increase, it could be enough to warrant the bird being taken off the threatened list, Estes said.

In 2006, there were an estimated 62,000 birds. Today, that number was an estimated at a fourth of that total.

Spokesmen for the 32 western Kansas counties in the Kansas Natural Resource Coalition, based in Garden City, said they was disappointed in the ruling, noting that the lesser prairie-chicken is not threatened with extinction but was suffering from the impact of a prolonged drought, as are other species in the High Plains. The regulatory burden will hit landowners who will have to decipher new regulations and face penalties if they misunderstand them, according to a news release from the entity.

“Kansas is taking a stand,” Estes said, adding the Sunflower State is joining Oklahoma in a federal lawsuit over the threatened species listing.

Gov. Sam Brownback has been concerned about what the listing would do to the state’s oil, gas and wind energy production as well as agriculture production.

The Kansas Natural Resources Coalition noted that western Kansas is a refuge for 75 percent of the lesser prairie-chickens and provides for more than 45 percent of the habitat.

“We also have choice oil and gas fields, ideal wind energy sites, valuable electrical power generation facilities and a diverse mix of industrial enterprises that, when coupled with our huge agricultural base, form the backbone of our communities. As these entities suffer the severe economic fallout of this listing decision, they will pass on the increased expenses to their customers in the form of higher electricity rates, or worse yet, they will pack up and move their valuable employment and economic activities elsewhere,” according to Ken Klemm, Goodland, who is president of the coalition.

The coalition believes the rangewide conservation plan will result in a $2.1 billion reduction in property taxes and will extract more than $22 million in fees from local industries, Klemm said. Besides Kansas and Oklahoma, other states impacted by the listing are New Mexico, Colorado and Texas.

Ewy, of Jetmore, said the lesser prairie-chickens’ listing was one that legislators and state agencies are also keeping tabs on.

Wind energy

Estes said there have been provisions to pull back on wind energy but it has been voted down twice in the House. Two more wind farms are planned in Ford County.

“We don’t need anti-wind policies,” he said.

Ness and Hodgeman counties have a lot of acres enrolled Conservation Reserve Program ground, and western Kansas has been a proven producer in wind energy, Ewy said.

He agreed with Estes that wind and anti-wind forces will continue to pressure lawmakers through the end of the session.

Water

Estes believed the 50-year water plan under the direction of Brownback has been a positive experience. The Kansas Department of Agriculture and Kansas Water Resources have been meeting with communities and farmers extensively to get their feedback on creating a plan that addresses water quantity and quality.

When factions fight, from communities to farmers to government regulators, nothing happens.

“We’re headed in the right direction,” he said.

Estes believed that technology and conservation are both going to be components.

Doll, of Garden City, sad he believed that immigration, while a federal issue, has consequences for those who are involved in production agriculture and businesses that depend on foreign laborers. He also noted the importance of affordable housing in rural Kansas, water quality and quantity, and preservation of passenger train service as also top priorities.

The representatives applauded a 123 to 0 vote to have the state recognize the National Day of the Cowboy in Kansas as the fourth Saturday in July, and in particular celebrate the state’s Western heritage. Love, of Montezuma, who chairs the Senate Ag Committee, said dialogue will continue on the issue.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached by phone at 620-227-1822 or by email at dbergmeier@hpj.com.

Date: 4/21/2014



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