Republican Gov. Sam Brownback announced Saturday he has signed a bill that represents the GOP-dominated Legislature's protest against the lesser prairie chicken gaining federal "threatened" status in March.
The "State Sovereignty over Non-migratory Wildlife Act," which Brownback signed late Friday, will take effect next week.
The new law says Kansas has the sole power to regulate the lesser prairie chicken — along with the larger, darker and more abundant greater prairie chicken — and their habitats within Kansas. It authorizes the attorney general or county prosecutors to sue over federal attempts to impose conservation measures.
Kansas officials have said farmers, ranchers and oil and natural gas companies face steep conservation fees and restrictions on their activities in habitat areas that will damage the state's economy.
"I will take every possible action to protect the rights of Kansans from the economic effects of this listing," Brownback said in a statement.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said its listing was prompted by a steep decline in lesser prairie chicken populations in recent years. The five states affected — Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas — had fewer than 18,000 prairie chickens in 2013. The listing gives the federal agency oversight of conservation efforts in the five states.
A spokeswoman for the federal agency did not immediately respond to email and cellphone messages Saturday seeking comment.
Brownback also said he spoke Thursday with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and asked for more time for Kansas residents to "consider their options." Kansas last month joined Oklahoma in a federal lawsuit challenging the process used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened.
Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas, said conservation efforts could rebuild the lesser prairie chicken population in a few years so that it no longer needs to be threatened.
He said of Brownback, "He basically has said the state of Kansas is unwilling to acknowledge that lesser prairie chickens are threatened and doesn't want to cooperate in conservation efforts."
Text of the new Kansas law: http://bit.ly/1oCb9Cj
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/
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