By MIKE CORN
WICHITA -- Senior Judge Jack Lively will take an extensive tour of the area at the heart of the battle over how much of the black-footed ferret's reintroduction site in Logan County can be poisoned.
A July trial has been scheduled, expected to last almost a week, in Logan County District Court.
At a hearing Tuesday, Lively agreed to a request to visit the nearly 10,000-ranch that is at the heart of the controversy over prairie dogs. That ranch, owned by Larry and Bette Haverfield and Gordon Barnhardt, is also the largest of the two reintroduction sites for ferrets in Kansas.
Tuesday's hearing was a catch-all pretrial hearing, at which several issues were on the table. Even though the case is pending in Logan County, the hearing was in Sedgwick County District Court, a midway point for parties to the lawsuit and Lively, a retired judge from Coffeyville.
While there were several issues to be discussed, Lively was most enthusiastic when attorney Randy Rathbun suggested a site visit by the court.
"I'm glad you invited me," Lively said from the bench. "I've been dying to go out there and see all these prairie dogs."
Initially, Rathbun, representing the Haverfields and Barnhardts, suggested giving each side an hour to offer a tour of the area at the heart of the controversy.
Logan County's attorney, Jim McVay, didn't like the hour limit, suggesting it would take almost that long to travel from Oakley to the site south of Russell Springs.
Lively agreed to allow at least a day for the on-site visit.
One of the issues discussed at the hearing included a request from the Kansas Farm Bureau to intervene in the case.
In a carefully worded request, KFB attorney Mike Irvin asked Lively for permission to intervene in the case -- on a somewhat limited capacity. Irvin said the goal of KFB's involvement is to ensure the state's law on eradication of prairie dogs is followed.
Attending the hearing with Irvin were several Logan County landowners, including some of the most ardent opponents. Among them was Byron Sowers, a Thomas County commissioner, who owns land adjacent to Haverfield.
Rathbun objected to KFB's entry, saying it all but duplicates the county's effort to extend poisoning of prairie dogs
"If the Farm Bureau is allowed to intervene in this case, the next thing we'll have is the Defenders of Wildlife will want to intervene," he said. "I've told them no, that this is a Logan County case. I don't want this to be a Kansas Farm Bureau trial against the Defenders of Wildlife."
McVay didn't object, and said this is a case of statewide interest.
Lively said he'd make a decision by today.
He also said he'd make a decision on a request from Rathbun, on limiting the number of people who can testify at the trial.
However, he suggested McVay narrow down the list to a couple from each of several categories of people affected by the prairie dogs.