Kansas House Committee Advances Prairie Chicken Bill

Apr 2, 2014

A mounted pair of lesser prairie chickens on display in the Kansas Statehouse.
Credit Stephen Koranda

A Kansas House committee has advanced a bill aimed at bucking federal regulation of the lesser prairie chicken. It was announced last week that the federal government would list the bird as a threatened species.

The bill says federal rules and policies surrounding the lesser prairie chicken have no effect in Kansas.

Washington Republican Sharon Schwartz is chairwoman of the Kansas House Ag Committee. She says the bill makes a statement. Schwartz says state and regional conservation plans would be better than federal regulation, which could hurt industry.

"By listing the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species it's going to be devastating to western Kansas," Schwartz says.

But some lawmakers say the bill would not really do anything, because federal law trumps state law. Ron Klataske, with the conservation group Audubon of Kansas, doesn't agree that federal regulation would hurt business in the state. He says family farming and ranching operations will be made eligible for new conservation programs.

"They will be continuing pretty much as they are, except landowners will have one additional option, and that is to sign up for a program to enhance the habitat," Klataske says.

The committee softened the bill by removing a part that would have made it a felony for federal officials to enforce any prairie chicken regulations in Kansas.

The full House could debate the prairie chicken bill later this week.