- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - Conservationists are concerned that a Kansas commission’s vote on the status of a snake species could be the first time in 40 years that a threatened species’ future is determined by politics rather than science.

The Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission will decide Thursday whether the redbelly snake should continue to be listed as a threatened species in the state.

Earlier this year, the Kansas Threatened and Endangered Species committee recommended that the species retain its listing as threatened under state law. At the same time, some Kansas lawmakers were trying to have the snakes removed from the list because the designation has stalled some developments in northeast Kansas. During the last legislative session, some legislators tried to revoke all of the Kansas threatened and endangered species regulations, The Wichita Eagle reported (https://bit.ly/1sLAUED ).

Wildlife and Parks secretary Robin Jennison acknowledges the redbelly snakes’ population is dwindling but he said he wants it removed from the list so lawmakers might not consider taking such drastic actions in the future.

“Science clearly shows the redbelly snake is clearly jeopardized in Kansas,” Jennison said at a Wildlife and Parks Commission meeting in June. “If the department does not pay attention to politics, then the Legislature (could) run natural resource management.”

Jennison said he wants the agency to work to improve redbelly populations in Kansas through education, partnerships and establishing more habitat areas.

Some conservation groups are urging Jennison and the commission to follow the committee’s advice.

Choosing politics over science would set a precedent that would “gut the protection of nongame species in Kansas,” said Elaine Giessel, Kansas Sierra Club endangered species chairwoman. “At any time, anybody could just up and ask that a species be taken off the list.

She said in the 40 years since the endangered species act was in effect in Kansas there has never been a case when the committee’s recommendations were changed or overridden.

Elmer Finck, a Fort Hays State University biology professor who has been a member of the state’s endangered species committee for more than 25 years, said it could find no proof the redbelly snake’s population had improved in recent years, making it an obvious decision to keep the species on the threatened list.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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