Wildlife and Parks wants redbelly snakes off threatened species list

6/23/2014

By Michael Pearce

By Michael Pearce

The Wichita Eagle

PITTSBURG (MCT) — The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism will not heed the advice of wildlife experts and will continue to try to get the redbelly snake removed from the state's threatened species list.

Department secretary Robin Jennison acknowledged the decision, which must be approved by the KDWPT commission, is to keep public support and an attempt to keep some power from the legislature.

The topic, brought up at Thursday's commission meeting, will be discussed at August's meeting again, and could be voted on in October.

The Threatened and Endangered Species task committee, after a five-year review of Kansas' imperiled species, recently said it wanted the redbelly snake to remain on the threatened species list. The task force is made up of biologists.

Jennison wants the species re-classified as a "species in need of conservation," despite population concerns.

"Science clearly shows the redbelly snake is clearly jeopardized in Kansas," Jennison said. He said the agency wants to help the snakes with a detailed population recovery plan. That could involve purchasing and protecting areas of good habitat, transplanting the snakes to good areas and possibly developing partnerships with those dealing with the issue.

Redbelly snakes are creatures of moist areas of mature oak and hickory forests in extreme eastern Kansas. Ed Miller, Wildlife and Parks endangered species biologist, said redbelly populations are strong in some other states. The species isn't on federal listings.

Because they've been listed as threatened in Kansas, redbelly snakes have complicated some development projects near Kansas City. Some developers have had to get permits for projects in redbelly habitat, and some mitigation fees have been required to compensate for damage to habitat.

By moving the snakes to a conservation listing, developers won't need such permits or have to pay mitigation fees or fines for destroying the snake's habitat. Jennison thinks the department can use education, and a possible recovery plan, to offset the loss of more habitat.

Last session, a bill progressed through the legislature that would have removed smooth earth and redbelly snakes from the state's threatened list because of their negative impacts on some economies. Smooth earth snakes have been removed from the list, at the advice of the special task committee.

Another bill was introduced that would have totally revoked the Kansas Threatened and Endangered Species Act. Concerns more bills could come in the future weighed in the department's decision.

"If the department does not pay attention to politics," Jennison said, "then the legislature (could) run natural resource management." He said removing the species from the threatened list could become controversial as news of the department's plan spreads. Also at the meeting:

--Commissioners changed a regulation to make it legal for hunters buying turkey and big-game permits to hunt the animals the same day the permit is purchased. Permits had not been valid until the next day.

--A Sept. 13-28 teal season was approved with a limit of six per day, pending approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

--Commissioners and the public discussed optional seasonal dates for the southeast duck zone. Tom Bidrowski, Wildlife and Parks waterfowl biologist, said the department should have their season requests after the completion of an ongoing survey. He hopes the results will be ready a few weeks before the Aug. 21 meeting, when waterfowl season dates and limits are approved near Great Bend.

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