By TIM CARPENTER
TOPEKA — U.S. Rep. Ron Estes of Kansas introduced legislation to prohibit the U.S. Interior Department from imposing restraints on land use through designation of the lesser prairie chicken as threatened or endangered.
In November, federal wildlife officials registered the lesser prairie chicken as threatened in Kansas and endangered in their habitat in the southwest United States. The birds can be found in regions of Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. Federal listings influence grazing and drilling practices.
Estes, a Republican who represents the Wichita region in Congress, said the House measure introduced Wednesday would require the interior secretary to delist the lesser prairie chicken within 60 days of the bill becoming law. His bill would affirm rights of ranchers and energy producers to control land relied on by the birds.
“Its inclusion on the threatened and endangered species list is detrimental to our robust ag and energy industries, blatant bureaucratic overreach and is another example of the Biden administration hindering American energy independence,” Estes said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision was based on an assessment indicating 90% of habitat for the birds had vanished. The agency said the population stood at about 32,000 based on averages drawn from aerial surveys of a five-state region from 2012 to 2022.
The agency determined voluntary conservation efforts helped conserve habitat for the lesser prairie chicken, but hadn’t demonstrated an ability to reverse trends of habitat loss and fragmentation influencing the bird’s to thrive.
However, Estes said the federal agency’s decision was “nonfactual” and disregarded voluntary public-private preservation efforts directed by people best capable of being stewards of the land. He said his bill would stop “Washington elites from undermining voluntary public-private conservation practices and ensures Kansans control our land.”
U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall and U.S. Rep. Tracy Mann, all Kansas Republicans, were critical of the USFWS’ decision.