By Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector
TOPEKA, Kan. — The lesser prairie chicken is back on a symbolic chopping block.
During a Wednesday House session, lawmakers passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 1602, formally disapproving the federal government’s listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species in Kansas and announcing support for efforts to remove the designation.
Rep. Ken Rahjes, a Republican from Agra, spoke in support of the resolution, saying the federal government was overstepping its authority.
“Kansans know what works best for Kansans,” Rahjes said.
Rep. Tobias Schlingensiepen, a Topeka Democrat, said he didn’t approve of the legislation, as it was symbolic and wouldn’t solve any problems. Schlingensiepen said state officials should work with the federal government to find a solution that would protect both farmers and the bird.
“This isn’t going to do anything for the prairie chicken, and the best way to preserve a prairie chicken if Kansans know what’s best for Kansans, and care about prairie chickens, is to force the federal government to work with us so that we can do what’s best for farmers, ranchers and also prairie chickens,” Schlingensiepen said.
The bird, which is known for its colorful spring mating dance, can be found in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. In November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the lesser prairie chicken as threatened in Kansas, saying the agency would determine areas of critical habitat for the bird. An estimated 90% of the bird’s habitat — unbroken tracts of native grasses — is gone. Only 32,000 lesser prairie chickens are left.
Kansas public officials and lawmakers have responded negatively to the listing, which came after years of wildlife advocacy efforts to save the bird.
Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach announced his plan to sue President Joe Biden’s administration over the listing earlier this month, saying protections for the bird were excessive and would harm economic development and agricultural practices in the state.
The Kansas Senate took emergency action Jan. 23 to adopt SCR 1602, and Kansas’ U.S. Sens. Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran also signed on to a national congressional review act, formally registering their disapproval of the listing.
Rahjes said the lesser prairie chicken was only scarce now due to drought, and that rain would cause the bird to bounce back.
“When the good Lord changes the weather pattern and it starts to rain, and I believe it will in southwest Kansas, you’ll be able in about two years to go down in that area and find it hard-pressed to find a place that does not have the lesser prairie chicken,” Rahjes said.