- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Complaints from state officials won’t stop the federal government from working to protect the lesser prairie chicken, according to Kansas’ top wildlife official.

Robin Jennison, secretary of the state Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, told a legislative committee that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will either impose a conservation plan across the bird’s range or list it as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said the population of the lesser prairie chicken has fallen dramatically as about 90 percent of its range has been taken up by prairies being converted to cropland and other uses.

Jennison said the conservation plan would be a better option for Kansas and that listing the bird as a federally threatened species would dramatically impact the state’s economy, The Lawrence Journal-World reported (https://bit.ly/1c6WEyJ ).

He said the rangewide plan, which has been endorsed by the USFWS, would include programs that would assure landowners that if they improve the bird’s habitat they wouldn’t be subject to additional restrictions on land management. It would also provide exemptions from fines or prosecution for accidentally injuring or killing birds during landowners’ routine practices or activities.

Agriculture and energy officials say their costs will increase if the lesser prairie chicken is listed as a threatened species because they will have to avoid disturbing the bird’s habitat.

Gov. Sam Brownback has also told the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that listing the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species isn’t justified and would lead to lawsuits from the state. A bill is also moving through the Legislature that says federal officials would have no authority over the bird in Kansas.

Jennison has remained neutral on that bill, but he told lawmakers that avoiding all federal action on the bird “just isn’t going to happen.”

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

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