One day after a floor debate rife with anti-federal government rhetoric that included one senator positing that the U.S. is in danger of becoming North Korea, the Senate passed a bill Wednesday asserting state jurisdiction over the lesser prairie chicken.
Senate Bill 276 is meant to prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the chickens as threatened or endangered, which bill proponents said would put crippling restrictions on agriculture, wind energy and oil. Others pushed for the bill as a general statement against federal overreach.
“If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adds the lesser prairie chicken to the threatened species list, subsequent federal regulations will slow economic growth and hinder energy production across the state,” Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said in an emailed statement. “We need to make sure that the state of Kansas protects its citizens from this sort of intrusion and does not encourage an expansion of federal bureaucracy.”
The bill will move to the House after senators approved the measure 30-10 over the objections of Democrats and a few Republicans, such Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick. McGinn said the bill, which would criminalize as a felony the actions of federal fish and wildlife agents, is inviting a lawsuit.
“It will lead to expensive litigation and cost our state money while trying to supersede the federal endangered species act,” McGinn said.
Sen. Larry Powell, R-Garden City, said the state will lose more in oil production, utility costs and farm restrictions if the prairie chicken is given protected status.
“Since the lesser prairie chicken is a nonmigratory bird and stays within the state, it is for the state to decide how to manage these populations,” Powell said in an emailed statement. “We are setting a precedent with other states on how to handle this situation.”
McGinn noted that Kansas has sued other states over shared resources that cross state lines, such as water. The prairie chickens don’t migrate seasonally, but McGinn said it is folly to believe individual birds respect state boundaries and therefore don’t fall under federal jurisdiction.
“We acknowledge water is a shared resource that does not stop at state lines,” McGinn said. “But somehow the prairie chicken does?”
The prairie chicken has a five-state range. Its numbers have dropped from about 97,000 in 2001 to about 17,500 last year.
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said her constituents have advised her to protect wildlife habitats and urged her colleagues to allow five-state talks with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to play out.
“The action that the Senate is taking on this bill could endanger those efforts,” Francisco said.
Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, expressed his opposition to the bill with some humor.
“Today it’s chickens, tomorrow it could be us hawks,” Hawk said.
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