By MIKE CORN
Listing the lesser prairie chicken as threatened isn't justified, Gov. Sam Brownback contends, and he's ready to take the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to court to "oppose and challenge any listing."
How much a court challenge might cost is uncertain, but Brownback has asked Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt to look into the possibility of filing a lawsuit.
Brownback outlined his opposition to the possible listing in a letter to FWS Director Dan Ashe, talking about the issue in more detail during a conference call with The Hays Daily News and a handful of radio reporters.
In his letter, the governor said "Kansas has much at stake in the service's decision regarding the lesser prairie chicken."
His letter said the listing isn't justified and would "negatively impact the state's agriculture and energy sectors in ways that can be avoided consistent with the interests of conservation and protection of the species."
The federal wildlife agency once again is taking public comments on its proposal to list the bird as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. It's the fifth time the agency has reopened the comment period, in part to clear up confusion on several issues.
Comments can be made through Wednesday, and FWS must make a final decision by March 31.
Other than to say the agency is aware of the letter, FWS spokeswoman Lesli Gray wouldn't comment on the issue. Instead, she said the agency continues to take comments from the public and hasn't made a decision on listing the bird.
The decline in lesser prairie chickens, Brownback told reporters, is a result of an ongoing drought.
"If the federal government would figure out how to get some rain, that would help," he said.
Brownback also lent his support to a five-state conservation plan put together by wildlife agencies from Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.
That plan, he said, "facilitates recovery strategies as a substitute to the listing of the species."
Brownback said his office has been in contact with governors in the four other states where the bird can be found, but there's not yet been any talk of a coordinated legal challenge.
"In short, the recent drought conditions should not serve as a basis for species listing," Brownback wrote. "A return to normal weather and precipitation conditions, along with the ongoing and proposed conservation efforts, should mitigate any perceived need to list the species."
Listing the bird, he said, would jeopardize Kansas' largest industries, agriculture and energy.
"While I am hopeful that you will agree that the criteria for listing is not satisfied here, Kansas stands ready to make a case in judicial review proceedings to oppose and challenge any listing," he said.