The Garden City Telegram
1/28/2014
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Bird battle

Plan from federal level offers protection for all.

The Lesser Prairie Chicken remains in the spotlight in Kansas and beyond.

Due to a sharp decline in the grouse's numbers — its historical range dropped some 84 percent because of development, conversion of native grassland to agriculture, drought and other factors — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in late 2012 proposed listing the bird well known in Kansas as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The proposal sparked a firestorm of controversy involving property owners who understandably feared restrictions on the use of their land, and others with concerns related to economic development.

The Lesser Prairie Chicken was a factor in Finney County being eliminated as a site for wind turbines set up elsewhere in southwest Kansas, as the company constructing the wind farm rightly expressed concerns over the project's possible impact on the Sandsage Prairie ecosystem and its species.

Now, in searching for acceptable middle ground, federal agencies have hatched another plan to help landowners while providing protection for the rare bird.

The offer — a unique agreement between the wildlife service and U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service — calls for legal protection for landowners who implement conservation measures to protect the Lesser Prairie Chicken's dwindling populations in Kansas and other states. Those who take steps to preserve habitat will receive a letter guaranteeing they will not be fined or prosecuted if Lesser Prairie Chickens are found dead on their property.

It's a more reasonable solution than one pitched in Topeka that would end protection for the bird.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an ultraconservative Republican, recently endorsed a state Senate bill that would exclude the Lesser Prairie Chicken from federal protection and give the state the authority to charge federal officials if they try to enforce federal laws pertaining to the threatened bird.

That would be overkill. Instead of waging another legal battle over state rights vs. federal law — as Kobach also advocated with pro-gun legislation in the state — the common-sense offer regarding the Lesser Prairie Chicken's future was a sensible approach to problem-solving that more elected officials in Kansas should embrace.