Kansas Pushes Back Against Federal Prairie Chicken Restrictions

Published July 16, 2014

Kansas public officials are pushing back against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service environmental restrictions regarding prairie chickens. In March, the FWS listed the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species in five states and proposed stifling land-use restrictions.

Drought Culls Chicken Population
According to the FWS, a prolonged drought in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas has reduced lesser prairie chicken numbers in the five states by nearly 50 percent since 2012. Although nearly 18,000 free-roaming lesser prairie chickens remain in the five states, the FWS took the opportunity to use the Endangered Species Act to propose land-use restrictions in the states.

The FWS blames farmers and ranchers for declining prairie chicken numbers, saying the conversion of prairies to farms and grazing lands has dramatically reduced the prairie chicken’s natural habitat.

Brownback Seeks Compensation
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) said the FWS should utilize incentives rather than restrictions to assist prairie chickens. Specifically, Brownback called for the FWS to offer financial compensation to Kansans who preserve or restore prairie chicken habitat.

“This is an overreach on the part of the federal government and I am concerned about the effect this designation will have on Kansas and the Kansas economy,” said Brownback in a press statement.

“If they’re upset about the loss of habitat, the federal government has a fabulous tool that is available and that they’ve been cutting back on,” said Brownback, referring to financial incentives. “Instead, they’re putting the costs on the private landowner and the energy industry.”

Sue-and-Settle Abuse
The FWS listed the lesser prairie chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act after environmental activist groups filed suit against the FWS and demanded such a listing.

“The listing proves once again that ‘sue and settle’ is taking the place of sound science,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) in a press statement.

Economically Suitable Alternatives
“I am confident there are ways to address conserving the species while not hampering economic growth and farming and ranching activities,” added U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) in a separate press statement.

In addition to impediments on farming and ranching, the FWS restrictions also threaten energy production in the state. The Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association reports oil and natural gas production employs 67,000 Kansans.

Unnecessary Restrictions
Seton Motley, president of the public policy organization Less Government, says the lesser prairie chicken should not be listed as threatened.

“There is plenty of undeveloped land in Kansas, and the prairie chicken can adapt to energy production in a single area,” explained Motley.

“Remember when environmental activists told us that building the Alaskan pipeline would spell the end of the Alaskan caribou?” Motley asked. “Well, it didn’t. To the contrary, the caribou benefited from the pipeline, which provided a wind break and emitted heat from the warm oil flowing within. The FWS’s land-use restrictions regarding the prairie chicken make about as much sense as the caribou restrictions.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.