Kansas congressmen introduce new attempt to overturn protected status of lesser prairie chicken

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The birds have been the center of debate for years, with Republicans and wildlife conservationists clashing over protections

TOPEKA — Kansas congressmen are trying to use a federal tool to strike down the listing of the lesser prairie chicken as threatened or endangered, saying protecting the birds would have negative consequences for Kansas’ economy. 

Federal wildlife officials registered the lesser prairie chicken as threatened in Kansas and endangered in their habitat in the southwest United States in November. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the birds have lost 90% of their original habitat over the years.  Between 2012 to 2022, there was a five-year decline in the population, with few of the birds found in their native Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. 

Listing the lesser prairie chicken as endangered or threatened influences grazing and drilling practices in the state, with some lawmakers saying conservation efforts threaten the livelihoods of farmers, ranchers and energy producers. 

The lesser prairie chicken has been the center of a battle between Kansas Republican lawmakers and environmental activists for years, with three conservation groups suing the federal government in 2019 to force action on the issue. The birds are best suited to living in large areas of native grasslands and are known for a unique spring mating dance. 

Ten Republican congressmen from Oklahoma and Kansas registered their disapproval of the listing through a congressional review act, making a joint resolution to try and overturn the ruling on the grounds that it would be bad for the agriculture and oil and gas industries. 

Kansas Sens. Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran joined Reps. Ron Estes, Jake LaTurner and Tracey Mann in introducing the congressional review act on the Kansas side, along with U.S. senators and representatives from Oklahoma. 

“While high inflation is the greatest challenge facing our nation, this listing will increase financial difficulties for the Kansans who raise cattle for your hamburgers and drill oil for your gasoline,” Marshall said in a Dec. 21 news release about the review. “This President says lowering costs is a priority, but yet again he is making decisions that will do the exact opposite.”

The congressional review act is used by congress to block rules issued by federal agencies. Under the act, an agency has to submit a report to congress on its rule. Congress has a time period after receiving the report to submit and act on a joint resolution of disapproval.

If the resolution passes both houses, the resolution can be either signed or vetoed by the president. If vetoed by the president, congress can vote to override the veto. 

The CRA is the last in a series of efforts made by Kansas Republicans to overturn lesser prairie-chicken protections. In December, Estes introduced a bill seeking to prohibit the U.S. Interior Department from imposing restraints on land use based on the status of the lesser prairie chicken.

“Time and again we’ve seen the Biden administration assert their overreaching and burdensome regulations on the lives of hardworking Kansans. The recent classification of the lesser prairie chicken is another example of using Washington bureaucrats to dictate how Kansans live and work,” Estes said in the news release. 

Marshall and Moran also led efforts in May and July to register their disapproval of the listing.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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