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On the road to serfdom?

With the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's efforts to list the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species, landowners, rural communities, industries and the economic fabric of the High Plains of Kansas find itself in great peril.

Our coalition of 32 western Kansas counties has discovered our own state of Kansas has aided and abetted the federal government in their efforts to overreach. Specifically, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism colluded with the federal government and developed a so-called conservation plan that did for the federal folks what they couldn't legally do for themselves.

The Range-wide Conservation Plan, which now is being "sold" to Kansans, hinges on two troubling facets -- mitigation fees and conservation easements. The mitigation part of this plan will squeeze $250 million from producers of oil and gas, wind energy, traditional power plants, electrical transmission, road construction, residential and commercial building and many agricultural related activities through a scheme called mitigation that looks a whole lot more like extortion to many.

It works like this: If you want "protection" from the risk that you might kill or harm the bird, or its habitat, you have to sign up for the plan. No matter that there might not be any birds in your area, the threat holds true in perpetuity since the federal government one day might decide it wants birds there. Of course, this is strictly "voluntary," so you can choose not to buy the "protection."

If this sounds like a script out of a Chicago gangster movie where the bad guys sell "fire protection" to honest, hard-working shopkeepers, that's because that's just what it's like; a protection racket, sponsored by the federal government.

This protection scheme will increase the electric bills of not only businesses, but households as well. Additionally, if you want to build a home or even a hog shed in lesser prairie-chicken habitat, it will cost you up to $38,330. Power to your new house will cost an extra $22,896 per mile, and the road to your house will add another $22,896 per mile. Wind turbines and cell towers will cost up to an extra $944,564 each, and new high-voltage power lines will cost an extra $870,642 per mile. Even a mile of new pasture road to a new windmill will cost ranchers $21,896 per mile.

Just as the mafia protection rackets drove out existing businesses and repelled start-ups, invoking the Range-wide Conservation Plan in our western Kansas region will increase consumer costs and reduce the quality of life for generations to come.

The second aspect of this master plan hinges on getting folks in agriculture to "voluntarily" sign up for a misnamed "conservation easement." A conservation easement is essentially a tumor on the title to your land that will prevent you, and all future generations, from developing the land. Perhaps even worse, these title tumors dictate, in rather vague language, how you will be allowed to manage your land. The rules can be changed by your new masters anytime they like and always are open to differing interpretations. Remember, once this has been attached to the deed of your property, it cannot be removed -- ever. On the road to serfdom, these are akin to the tire puncture devices seen in parking garages where once you drive over them you cannot go back. These title tumors likely will make free farmers and ranchers serfs on their own lands.

Of course, the spin is they are "voluntary," but if you want the protection, you're going to have to play -- just like in the movies.

The lower property valuations that come after a conservation easement is attached to a deed effectively will increase the tax load for other citizens as the same amount of government services will be required from a now smaller valuation of land. Read -- property tax increases likely.

Undergird this scheme with the real scientific evidence that shows there is no clear threat to the lesser prairie chicken. On the contrary, the lesser prairie chicken population has been expanding its Kansas range for years and seems to be adapting quite well to modern life. For instance, wind turbine farms appear to have a net positive effect on prairie chicken numbers. Meanwhile, the birds have been known to use oil and gas pads for their mating rituals and make good use of power transmission line corridors as well. Due to drought, prairie-chicken numbers are certainly down, but history has proven them to rebound with astonishing rapidity once the rains return.

Any average person can peruse the science and see this bird need not be listed. It doesn't take much greater thought to connect the dots and wonder if this entire effort is little more than yet one more gargantuan federal control scheme.

The 32 counties in our coalition each have adopted into our local codes a conservation plan that provides a common sense, low-cost way to ensure these birds have adequate assistance in sharing the land with us humans. It is our observation this bird has proven it readily can adapt to most of what man and nature has thrown at it for the last several thousand years. We feel with a few low-cost, common-sense measures, we can assure its continued survival, as well as ensure the preservation of the economies, property rights and liberties of western Kansas citizens. We welcome the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to coordinate their efforts with our locally approved plan.

In the meantime, we encourage concerned citizens to contact their federal, state and county representatives to learn more about this issue, and voice their concerns and exercise their American liberties.

Ken Klemm

Sherman County Commission president, Kansas Natural Resource Coalition