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KNRC not ready to give up





Sherman County rancher Ken Klemm continues to hold out hope the state of Kansas will take up the baton in a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Gove County farmer Mahlon Tuttle isn't so sure the group ever will get a chance to file the lawsuit, although he'd like to see at least some participation in existing cases.

Both Klemm and Tuttle are commissioners in their respective counties and top-ranking officers of the Kansas Natural Resource Coalition, a loosely organized coalition of western Kansas counties where the lesser prairie chicken can be found.

Klemm hopes to convince Gov. Sam Brownback, when he attends the 3i show July 10 in Garden City, to offer the state's resources to file a lawsuit against the federal wildlife agency for failing to "coordinate" with KNRC prior to listing the lesser prairie chicken as threatened.

Kansas, however, already is part of a lawsuit originally filed by the state of Oklahoma and an Oklahoma-based oil association that includes the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association among its members.

If Brownback isn't willing to offer the state's financial support, Klemm said the group will continue to look for someone willing to foot the bill for the lawsuit.

Either way, both Klemm and Tuttle agree the group isn't going to lay down and die.

Tuttle said the group will continue working with the Bureau of Land Management as the agency prepares to update its resource management plan.

They've also talked about entering the fray on a proposal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency defining the scope of water affected by the federal Clean Water Act.

The comment period on that proposal recently was extended until July 21.

But for the KNRC, it will be something of a crushing blow to forego filing a lawsuit against FWS for its listing of the lesser prairie chicken. But it's also not something the group can afford.

Klemm, however, said if Brownback isn't interested, counties whose oil interests are affected by the listing, could band together and pay for the lawsuit.

Tuttle said he'd like to see the group join with New Mexico counties and the Permian Basin Petroleum Association in its lawsuit against the federal wildlife agency, but he also knows they'd probably want the group to pay its share.

KNRC long has struggled to get the money to conduct its mission, something that hasn't been fully defined by bylaws.

Klemm said KNRC has lost one member county and is preparing to send out invoices to the remaining counties to pay for administrative costs and enough money to explore the idea of a lawsuit.

Those invoices will ask for nearly $10,000 from each county to cover costs this year and next.

While the group initially was created to fight the idea of listing the lesser prairie chicken as threatened. FWS did just that, with the listing taking effect in early April.

Already, several lawsuits have been filed, two opposing the listing and one seeking to have the bird put in the more serious endangered category.

Brownback already said Kansas would up the ante in its lawsuit and ask for an injunction giving people more time to look at different conservation plans to preserve the species.

In its listing, FWS endorsed a range wide plan put together by the five states where the bird can be found.

Already, nearly 14 million acres have been enrolled in various conservation programs designed to benefit the lesser prairie chicken. Of that, 160 oil and gas, wind and electric companies have enrolled 9 million acres in the range wide plan, committing more than $43 million for habitat conservation.

The remaining acres are part of a series of conservation agreements in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.