Coalition details its fight to keep bird off endangered species list


WaKEENEY -- Commissioners from at least six northwest Kansas counties listened intently as the Kansas Natural Resource Coalition talked about its efforts to prevent the lesser prairie chicken from being listed as threatened.

They also listened just as intently as Sherman County Commissioner Ken Klemm, the KNRC president, laid out its financing needs to wrap up current efforts and to keep the group in existence for 2014.

As a result, KNRC will be asking its 32 member counties to kick in another $2,553 to let the group finish what it started on the listing effort and have enough money left over to keep two people actively involved in keeping close tabs on endangered species activities by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The group has hired Jim Carlson, a Garden City engineer, as its director and technical adviser, and Scott County resident Sheila Ellis as a research analyst.

Klemm, at a meeting last week in WaKeeney, said the group wasn't able to collect as much money from indirect contributions, those coming from non-governmental sources.

As a result, he said of the push to keep the lesser prairie chicken from being listed as threatened, KNRC needs "$25,000 to get this done."

Counties will be billed an additional $1,912 for the 2014 assessment. The group plans to bill the counties on a quarterly basis, so the costs might be lower if other groups join in.

While the group has put together a pair of documents on the proposed listing of the lesser prairie chicken by the federal wildlife agency and on what it calls mandated government-to-government meetings, KNRC is basically at loggerheads with FWS.

KNRC has met with representatives of the agency, but no one from FWS showed up at a two-day hearing called by the county group for the so-called coordination meeting.

Klemm said coordination is a "legal term where a government agency talks to another government agency. We are a group of county commissions."

KNRC hearing officer Fred Kelly Grant, an Idaho man who is an ardent supporter of the coordination meetings, chastised FWS for its failure to appear.

Klemm said he planned to present the KNRC's findings from the hearing to the Department of the Interior. FWS is an agency within Interior.

FWS reportedly already is preparing a response to the county group on the coordination issue that was the focus of the Garden City meeting.

During much of last week's meeting, Klemm painted a less than rosy picture surrounding the listing proposal.

Already, he said, two counties -- neither of which he identified -- lost wind farm proposals, which would have brought in $900,000 in revenue.

He also passed along words from a banker who said land values would be depressed as a result of conservation easements to boost habitat.

"Even if your neighbor signs up and you don't," he said, "your land values will go down."

Klemm didn't identify the banker or the counties reportedly losing the wind farms.

He did say the group is working on linking up with the Kansas Legislative Policy Group for a one-year trial, and needs to set up bylaws and set up a nonprofit group.

Klemm also hinted at the possibility of going to court, depending on the outcome of the listing proposal. But it likely will focus on the coordination effort.

"We already are being courted by big law firms," Klemm told the commissioners.