Kansas AG announces plan to sue Biden administration over lesser prairie chicken protections

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TOPEKA —  Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach plans to sue President Joe Biden’s administration over the lesser prairie chicken, calling federal protections for the bird illegal and potentially devastating to landowners and businesses in the state. 

In a Tuesday announcement, Kobach said the listing of the bird as a threatened species failed to consider Kansas’ conservation and mitigation measures, and that state wildlife officials were already working with landowners to conserve the species. 

“The Biden administration’s listing of this species will have a devastating impact on Kansas ranchers, Kansas oil producers, and Kansas wind farms. Moreover, it is illegal,” Kobach said. “Kansas will lead the way in fighting against this overreach by the Biden administration.”

 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the lesser prairie chicken as threatened in Kansas in November. The agency said it would determine areas of critical habitat for the bird. Kobach sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director in late November, giving the legally-mandated 60-day notice of his intent to file litigation. 

Kobach said the listing would restrict energy pipelines, road placement, cattle grazing and other developments, including oil drilling. In the letter, he argued that rainfall affected  the bird populations, and that when the state’s current drought ended, lesser prairie chicken numbers would bounce back.  

The bird, which is known for its colorful spring mating dance, can be found in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. The listing came after years of campaigning by wildlife advocates, including a 2019 lawsuit by three conservation groups. An estimated 90% of the bird’s habitat — unbroken tracts of native grasses — is gone. Only 32,000 lesser prairie chickens are left. 

Kobach is not alone in his fight against protections for the bird. The Kansas Senate took emergency action Jan. 23 to adopt a resolution condemning federal protection of the lesser prairie chicken. 

On a national level, Republican congressmen have been fighting protections through a Congressional Review Act. The act is used to block rules issued by federal agencies. Under the act, an agency has to submit a report to Congress on its rule. After receiving the report, Congress can submit and act on a joint resolution of disapproval.

Ten Republican congressmen from Oklahoma and Kansas registered their disapproval of the listing through the act, trying to overturn the ruling on the grounds that it would be bad for the agriculture and oil and gas industries. Kansas’ U.S. senators, Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran, along with Reps. Ron Estes, Jake LaTurner and Tracey Mann were part of the action. Moran, Marshall and Mann also condemned the listing when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first issued it.

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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