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Eagle editorial: Prairie chicken bill goes off deep end

  • Published Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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The federal government has few defenders at the Statehouse, where lawmakers are still wasting time trying to opt out of the Affordable Care Act. But the Senate went way off the deep end last week in voting 30-10 to criminalize federal wildlife enforcement in the state relating to lesser prairie chickens and greater prairie chickens.

The broader bill, SB 276, reflects the real concern about what it might cost farmers and other property owners if the federal government lists the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species or imposes a plan to conserve its habitat. There are good questions about why the lesser prairie chicken’s population has declined so dramatically and whether that justifies strict land-use limitations in Kansas and the other affected states.

But it seems more prudent for Kansas, rather than trying to block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from acting, to let Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Secretary Robin Jennison continue his two-year collaboration with Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas on a rangewide plan to safeguard the bird while also offering some protections and even compensation to landowners.

The bill’s greatest offense may be how it would make it a felony in Kansas for federal wildlife agents or federal contractors’ employees to do their jobs. As Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, argued in vain during the debate (in which the U.S. was characterized as on a fast track to becoming North Korea): “It will lead to expensive litigation and cost our state money while trying to supersede the federal Endangered Species Act.”

Much like the sweeping gun bill passed last session, it also makes the mistake of assuming that federal agents are jackbooted, border-crossing thugs. In fact, they are taxpaying, voting Kansans like anybody else, except that they happen to be working for the U.S. government.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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