Kansas Senate Bill Would Criminalize Conservation of Prairie-Chickens?!

January 30, 2014

Call to Action, News, Prairie Chickens

Action Alert: Take Action to Protect Prairie-Chickens from Senate Bill 276

It is crazy. It is crazy that the State of Kansas is being used as the assault vehicle against protection of threatened and endangered species listed in the federal Endangered Species Act.

Lesser Prairie-Chicken by Bob Gress, www.birdsinfocus.com

However, Kansas Secretary of State (Kris Kobach) has launched a state bill (Senate Bill 276) in the Kansas State Senate to try to prevent the US Fish and Wildlife Service from taking any action to protect imperiled non-migratory wildlife species or their habitats in Kansas. Obviously Mr. Kobach thinks that it is politically popular to suggest that “the sky is falling” and it will fall if the Lesser Prairie-chicken is designated as a threatened species (as may be determined in March).

Lawrence Journal-World: Kobach urges passage of bill that would exclude Lesser Prairie Chicken from federal protection

Although the bill stops short of total secession from the union (!), if enacted, the bill would establish a statute that would claim that:

1)  Any federal law, treaty, regulation or executive action that specifically regulates the following is null, void and unenforceable within the state:

(1) The lesser prairie-chicken;
(2) The greater prairie-chicken;
(3) The habitats of such species;
(4) Farming practices that affect such species; or
(5) Other human activity that affects such species or the habitats of such species.

2) No official, agent or employee of the state of Kansas, or any political subdivision thereof, shall enforce or attempt to enforce any federal law, treaty, regulation or executive action that specifically regulates the (same as above).

3) And further, “It is unlawful for any official, agent or employee of the government of the United States, or employee of a corporation providing services to the government of the United States to enforce or attempt to enforce any federal law, treaty, regulation or executive action that specifically regulates the (same as above).

“Violation of this section is a severity level 10, nonperson felony.”

With this in mind, wildlife biologists or law enforcement agents with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, and others, could be hauled into court and charged with a felony for any actions, as described, to protect Prairie-chickens or their habitat in Kansas.

Needless to say, any action against federal employees or their agents would be determined to be invalid in federal court (and probably in state court as well).  However, a state law that makes it a felony for a state employee or others to be involved with protection of Prairie-chickens and their habitat as part of any federal threatened species recovery program may be more problematic.

This legislative initiative by the Secretary of State seems eerily similar to a statement reported in a western Kansas newspaper.  A county commissioner was quoted as saying that the best action was to simply get rid of all the Prairie-chickens, Black-footed Ferrets and Prairie Dogs. Considering that the population of Lesser Prairie-chickens is plummeting, and has dropped another 50 percent in the past year, these anti-conservation zealots may realize their vision.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee held a hearing last week, but it was only posted on the agenda the evening before so persons with concern didn’t know about it or have time to prepare testimony.  Advocates included Kris Kobach, the Kansas Farm Bureau (as always), and Kansas Electric Cooperatives Inc.  Steve Swaffer, representing the Kansas Farm Bureau was quoted as telling members of the committee, “If we can pass this bill, many of you will go home heroes.”

The idea of Senate Bill 276 is “enacting the state sovereignty” over all non-migratory wildlife” so the federal government cannot protect any within the state of Kansas under the Endangered Species Act or any other treaty or regulation.  Of course if this type of state’s rights legislation had any legal basis it could be used by various states to prevent protection of threatened or endangered species including California Condors, Florida Panthers, Mississippi Sandhill Cranes, Key Deer, Masked Bobwhites, an array of Hawaiian birds, most reptiles and amphibians and many fishes (e.g. Ozark Cavefish, various isolated species of Pupfish, etc.).

RELATIVE TO SENATE BILL #276, WHAT CAN WE DO?

Obviously the most important thing that anyone can do at this point is to send an email to or call their state senator, and/or all of the state senators expressing concerns with this bill.  If you are opposed to it, make that clear.  If the bill clears the state senate, the next priority will be to contact state representatives.  One does not have to wait until the senate takes action to proceed with contacts to members of the House of Representatives.

Please find below a list of links to members of the Kansas State Senate, followed by information on members of the House of Representatives.

Senate Committee on Natural Resources
Chair: Sen. Larry Powell (larry.powell@senate.ks.gov)
Vice Chair: Sen. Dan Kerschen (dan.kerschen@senate.ks.gov)
Ranking Minority Member: Sen. Marci Francisco (Marci.Francisco@senate.ks.gov)
Members: Sen. Tom Arpke (Tom.Arpke@senate.ks.gov), Sen. Tom Hawk (Tom.Hawk@senate.ks.gov), Sen. Carolyn McGinn (Carolyn.McGinn@senate.ks.gov), Sen. Michael O’Donnell (Michael.ODonnell@senate.ks.gov), Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer (Ralph.Ostmeyer@senate.ks.gov), Sen. Dennis Pyle (Dennis.Pyle@senate.ks.gov), Sen. Greg Smith (Greg.Smith@senate.ks.gov), Sen. Caryn Tyson (Caryn.Tyson@senate.ks.gov)

Or, click here to send an e-mail to the entire committee or copy and paste the following group of addresses into your email: 
larry.powell@senate.ks.gov, dan.kerschen@senate.ks.gov, Marci.Francisco@senate.ks.gov, Tom.Arpke@senate.ks.gov, Tom.Hawk@senate.ks.gov, Carolyn.McGinn@senate.ks.gov, Michael.ODonnell@senate.ks.gov, Ralph.Ostmeyer@senate.ks.gov, Dennis.Pyle@senate.ks.gov, Greg.Smith@senate.ks.gov, Caryn.Tyson@senate.ks.gov

To find your house and senate representatives, along with their contact information, click here.

Or, if you are NOT a Kansas citizen, sign this petition.

Please Help With this and Other Important AOK Conservation Initiatives

We need your help.  Please donate now to keep Audubon of Kansas on the front lines undeterred by controversy or the absence of other conservation organizations in the trenches, working for wildlife in every forum possible, joining landowners and others who strive to protect prairie landscapes and ecological values, pushing agencies to change operational paradigms and go beyond their comfort zones. We greatly appreciate any support you can provide.

To donate online, simply click here.
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About AOK

A statewide, 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization established to promote appreciation and stewardship of Kansas’ natural ecosystems, with special emphasis on conservation of prairies, birds, other wildlife and their habitat.

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