Kansas pushes back on threatened bird
Topeka Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback announced Tuesday that he is pushing the federal government to assume some costs for protecting the lesser prairie chicken by expanding incentives for farmers to enroll their land in a longstanding conservation program.
Brownback also said Kansas will return to federal court this week to seek additional time for farmers, ranchers, and oil and natural gas producers to respond to the federal government’s decision in March to list the bird as threatened. Kansas residents were supposed to decide last month whether to participate in conservation efforts. They faced restrictions and federal fees to continue business activities in areas with prairie chicken habitats.
The Republican governor criticized the listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a regulatory overreach by the federal government that threatens the state’s economy. He scheduled a news conference Tuesday in Wichita to discuss new actions by the state and outlined them in a Statehouse briefing for The Associated Press beforehand.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said the listing is justified by a steep decline in the bird’s numbers in recent years. The five states affected — Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas — had fewer than 18,000 in 2013, down almost 50 percent from 2012.
Brownback released a letter dated Monday to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pursue “enhanced incentives” for farmers to enroll land in the agency’s Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers not to cultivate. Brownback said doing so would expand lesser prairie chicken habitats; with such a move, the federal government also would pay farmers to help protect the bird, rather than the other way around.