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Prairie chicken listing pushes Kansas into lawsuit

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas will join a lawsuit against the federal agency that's listing the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species, Gov. Sam Brownback announced Friday, saying the designation isn't necessary to rebuild the bird's population.

Oklahoma filed a federal lawsuit last week against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenging the agency's process in considering the listing. Brownback said Kansas expects to enter the lawsuit next week and again said the service's action is an "overreach" by the federal government that will harm the Kansas economy and intrude into citizens' daily lives.

Brownback and state wildlife Secretary Robin Jennison said the action isn't necessary because the five states with lesser prairie chicken habitats — Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas — worked for several years with the federal agency on a conservation plan. The federal agency praised that plan in announcing the listing Thursday, but Kansas officials object to the federal government assuming oversight.

Kansas officials said they fear the federal agency will use its authority to impose new restrictions on farming, ranching, oil, natural gas and wind-energy production in areas where the lesser prairie chicken roams. But Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas, said state officials are overreacting and called their response to the listing "absurd."

Because the federal agency hasn't published the rule associated with the listing yet, Jennison acknowledged that state officials don't yet know all the full implications. But when reporters pressed him about whether federal oversight might not turn out to be as strict as state officials fear, Jennison said, "It will."

"It's the declaration of 'threatened.' That's the line that we did not want them to come across," Brownback said. "They went ahead and did it.'"

The federal agency declined to comment because of Oklahoma's lawsuit. But in Thursday's announcement, agency Director Don Ashe announced said it would impose an extraordinary rule to recognize "significant" efforts by the states and landowners, allowing the states to manage conservation efforts.

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