The Sunflower State has formally joined a lawsuit challenging a federal agency’s authority to list the lesser prairie chicken as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, Derek Schmidt, Kansas attorney general, said this week. Schmidt filed paperwork in Tulsa, Okla., Wednesday to join the Oklahoma-led lawsuit, which also includes North Dakota.
“This is an overreach by the federal government and it’s another example of the Obama administration aggressively and unnecessarily intruding into our daily lives,” Gov. Sam Brownback said last week when announcing Kansas would join the lawsuit.
The suit challenges the use of a process called “sue and settle,” which allows private interest groups to sue federal agencies in hopes to compel the agencies to take certain actions. The state thinks one of those suits led to the federal court order that forced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened.
The states challenging the process argue that the actions cannot be used to ignore or circumvent federal statutory law. The lawsuit alleges that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated its statutory obligation to make Endangered Species Act listing decisions “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available” and failed to adhere to the agency’s own regulations and guidelines in the rule-making process.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services said the lesser prairie chicken falls under the Endangered Species Act because of the threat for the birds to become endangered or extinct in the foreseeable future. The ruling affects the chickens in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico.
The population of the lesser prairie chicken declined last year to a record low of 17,616 birds, an almost-50-percent reduction from the 2012 population estimate, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Senate Bill 276 — passed by the Kansas Senate in February and sent to the House — would establish the state as being the sole regulatory authority to govern the management, habitats, hunting and possession of lesser and greater prairie chickens that exist within the state, as well as making the chickens exempt from federal laws. State Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, who represents Franklin County in the Statehouse, supported the measure.