Kansas Wants to Exclude the Lesser Prairie Chicken from Federal Protection
Despite the stereotype, Kansas is actually a beautiful state. Sure, it’s flat. But there is something about the prairie landscape that’s incredibly soothing. I think it’s probably the most unappreciated attribute of the state. Too bad the state government is going out of its way to not protect it.
There is a bird called the lesser prairie chicken, and about half of its population lives in western Kansas. Their numbers have decreased dramatically recently, and the Obama administration has proposed that it become a protected species. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will have none of that.
The bill, SB 276, does a few things. Notably, it nullifies any law that seeks to regulate the lesser and greater prairie chicken, their habitats or farming practices. Furthermore, if any employee, official or corporation doing work for the federal government enforces a federal law regarding the lesser or greater prairie chicken they will have committed a level 10, nonperson felony.
That’s right. Any federal government official or employee who tries to enforce federal protections of the greater or lesser prairie chicken will be guilty of a felony under state law. Priorities.
What is so incredible about this is neither the lesser or greater prairie chicken is actually an endangered species, and the feds are only considering protections for the lesser prairie chicken. This is preemptive.
The lesser prairie chicken may not be a sexy species, like tigers or elephants, but monitoring them is important. The population has decreased dramatically, and that could indicate that something else has gone wrong. From Lawrence Journal-World:
According to Fish and Wildlife, the historical range of the Lesser Prairie Chickens has been reduced by 84 percent because of development and conversion of native grassland to agriculture.
“The decline of the Lesser Prairie Chicken sends a signal that native grasslands are in trouble. By taking actions to conserve the species, we can also restore the health of our native grasslands that support local economies and communities in addition to migratory birds and other wildlife,” the agency said.
The argument for the bill is that federal protection of the lesser prairie chicken will have a detrimental impact on agriculture, which is big in western Kansas. But flat refusal to allow the implementation of federal law is disturbing.
In addition, if this bill passes and is challenged in court, Kobach said the litigation could cost between $100,000 and $400,000. The state is cash-strapped as it is, and the state’s K-12 education budget has been slashed. But hey, there’s always money for litigation.
It’s all very disappointing. In some ways, it’s even more disappointing than the recently passed resolution denying climate change because this is less of an obvious metaphorical photo op and could have real consequences.
Photo Credit: Larry Lamsa via Flickr