Kobach seeks approval of bill on rare grouse

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is supporting a state Senate bill that would exclude the lesser prairie chicken from federal protection and give the state the authority to charge federal officials if they try to enforce federal laws pertaining to the rare bird.

The measure would assert state sovereignty over non-migratory wildlife, declare null and void any federal law in Kansas on the lesser prairie chicken, and allow state officials to charge federal officials with a felony if they try to enforce federal laws dealing with the bird.

“There is nothing in the Constitution that mentions the federal regulation of species,” Kobach told the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. He said his testimony was as a former constitutional law professor and attorney and not as secretary of state, The Lawrence Journal World reported (http://bit.ly/1ejRCPP ). Kobach said if the Legislature approved the bill and it ended up being challenged in court, the litigation costs would range from $100,000 to $400,000.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The agency has until April to decide the issue. The Fish and Wildlife Service says the historical range of the bird has been reduced by 84 percent because of development, conversion of native grassland to agriculture and other factors

The bird’s population also dropped by nearly half last year, a decline that some attributed to drought.

“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.

Several groups have opposed the listing, saying it would create more regulations that could curtail agriculture and energy interests, including wind energy operations in the bird’s Kansas habitat.

Mitigation costs would double the price of constructing electric transmission lines, said Bruce Graham, chief executive officer of the Kansas Electric Cooperatives Inc.

State wildlife officials in Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas have proposed enacting a conservation plan in hopes of avoiding a federal listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken. But that would also impose significant costs, Graham said.

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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