Eagle editorial: Wildlife, conservation bills send bad message

04/01/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:23 AM

Balancing property rights and wildlife protection isn’t easy, but some state leaders seem eager to discount science and go to court. Kansas cannot afford to do either.

Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, even told The Eagle that endangered species should be managed by the Legislature rather than the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, suggesting there was some benefit to leaving such decisions “in the hands of people elected by the state.” That’s a scary thought – for wildlife as well as Kansans – given the poor grasp of facts exhibited during Statehouse debates these days.

Along those lines, legislators have advanced a proposal to do away with the Kansas Endangered Species Act. The bill was objectionable enough as drafted to remove the redbelly and smooth earth snakes from state listings. Now it would go even further to strip Wildlife and Parks experts of their authority to investigate and influence how development might affect habitat for sensitive species. By passing the bill, Kansas would send the message it doesn’t care about endangered species, as it invited more federal scrutiny and legal bills.

The legislative threat extends to a bill to limit the duration of conservation easements, which are an effective tool for safeguarding grazing land and natural areas. As Mark Schlegel, Ducks Unlimited’s state chairman, wrote in a letter to the editor last week, the benefits of perpetual conservation easements include “income for landowners, protection of critical and important wildlife habitat, protecting watersheds” and “protecting grasslands for future generations, all while keeping the land in private ownership and on the tax rolls.”

Gov. Sam Brownback, who has been an outstanding promoter of Kansas’ natural beauty and resources, furthered concern Friday by announcing that Kansas will sue over the federal government’s designation of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species. He called the federal government’s move an “overreach,” but it was his threat that seemed excessive and unproductive, given that the federal Fish and Wildlife Service said in its announcement that it would grant Kansas and four other states a special exemption to proceed with their collaborative conservation plan for the lesser prairie chicken. Its director even said “states remain in the driver’s seat for managing the species.”

And if Brownback opposes the related bill to assert state sovereignty over nonmigratory wildlife and even criminalize federal wildlife enforcement in the state, he should say so. “We’re looking at it. We’ll see,” Brownback said, according to the Lawrence Journal-World.

What is there to look at or see about? All that will do is similarly bait a federal lawsuit, while casting attorneys as the winners and nature as the loser.

What Kansas needs on wildlife and conservation is common sense, good science and consensus building.

Instead, it’s getting belligerence and shortsighted politics.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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