By Associated Press - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp disclosed Tuesday that he’s working with other members of Congress on proposals to slash the budget of the federal agency listing the lesser prairie chicken as threatened.

The Republican congressman said the goal would be to pressure the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to back off its listing, which the agency announced in March. But Huelskamp acknowledged such a move also would protest what he and other GOP lawmakers see as a general over-regulation of businesses by Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration.

Huelskamp represents the 1st Congressional District of western and central Kansas, and he said he’s working with U.S. House members from the other states affected by the listing - Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. He said they won’t seek to “zero out” the service’s budget but suggested that a 25 percent cut may be proposed.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing for the lesser prairie chicken allows federal oversight of efforts in the affected states to preserve the grouse’s habitat. Huelskamp and other Kansas officials, including Gov. Sam Brownback, have said the federal government could restrict farming, ranching and energy production and impose heavy conservation fees.

“This could be the death knell of economic growth and opportunity in western Kansas,” Huelskamp told reporters after filing for re-election in Topeka. “It can’t be overstated.”

The agency declined to respond to Huelskamp’s comments, and it’s also not commenting on a new Kansas law declaring that only the state can regulate prairie chickens within its borders. The law takes effect May 22 and will allow the attorney general and local prosecutors to file lawsuits to block federal conservation efforts.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said its listing was prompted by a steep decline in lesser prairie chicken numbers in recent years. The five affected states had fewer than 18,000 in 2013, down almost 50 percent from 2012.

Kansas officials blame a persistent drought and argue that wetter weather will restore lesser prairie chicken habitats and cause their numbers to rebound.

“If you want success, make it rain,” Huelskamp said. “Obviously, government thinks they can do everything, but they can’t figure that one out.”

Huelskamp applauded the new Kansas law, which applies to both the lesser prairie chicken and the larger, darker and more abundant greater prairie chicken. He also praised Brownback’s administration for bringing Kansas last month into a federal lawsuit with Oklahoma over the process that led to the listing for the lesser prairie chicken.



Text of the new Kansas law on prairie chickens:

Huelskamp’s congressional office:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

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