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Counties set to talk chickens

11/1/2013

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

The 32-county Kansas Natural Resource Coalition is calling the endorsement of a rival lesser prairie chicken plan premature.

The group, which includes most Kansas counties in the area inhabited by the bird, had developed its own plan, which it hand-delivered to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In a conference call last week with reporters, FWS endorsed a plan put together by wildlife agencies in the five state's where the chicken can be found.

"We expected that would happen," Ken Klemm said of the agency adopting the rival plan. "After meeting with them in Washington, D.C., we expected they would."

As president of KNRC, Klemm, a Sherman County commissioner, delivered the group's plan to the FWS.

By endorsing the plan, its success will be part of the measure ultimately used by FWS to determine if the lesser prairie chicken is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

But by endorsing the plan, FWS not only shoved aside the KNRC plan but also a competing habitat exchange plan put forward by the unlikely partnership of oil companies, the Environmental Defense Fund and farm bureaus from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

The habitat exchange plan was designed to be put in motion once the bird was declared threatened.

In a statement, KNRC said the five-state plan endorsed by FWS "circumvents local government, proposes costs that pose economic hardship and it bypasses studies that safeguard human systems and disadvantaged populations."

"At its core, the RWCP is a land-use plan administered by a non-governmental organization that imposes massive tariffs on local utilities, energy transmission, regional road-construction, wind development and even private landholders" Klemm said in a statement. "The service is using a 2011 court order to justify violating four acts of Congress, six executive orders and regulations from the Council on Environmental Quality. KNRC does not believe a court order trumps congressional mandates."

Despite the endorsement, KNRC is moving ahead with plans for a two-day public hearing on the advisability of listing the lesser prairie chicken.

The hearing will be from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the Clarion Hotel in Garden City.

The purpose of the hearing is for "receiving, analyzing and evaluating all relevant information regarding the proposed listing and to evaluate consistency of listing efforts with congressional acts, presidential executive orders, federal and state regulations, sound scientific principal, economic considerations, cultural and civic impacts, general environmental practice and established plans," the notice states.

The notice was included in the KNRC's objection to the FWS's action on the five-state plan, but it had already been distributed to member counties.

It's all part of what's called coordination status -- the controversial legal concept requiring federal agencies to work with local governments.

So far, only a handful of people have signed up to testify before a four-person hearing council made up of the KNRC steering committee.

Representatives from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism are slated to testify Thursday, along with a representative of the state electric cooperative council, coalition executive director Jim Carlson said.

While the FWS hasn't signed up to testify, he expects representatives will be at the meeting to observe. Carlson said the hearing council will be able to ask questions of them.

"When calling for coordination, they're fairly guarded on what they have to say," he said of the federal agency. "That's a fairly reasonable response."

Still, Klemm said the group was scheduled to meet with KDWP&T and FWS representatives today in Sherman County to talk about what information is needed for next week's meeting.

Carlson said he expects a number of people to sign up to testify once the hearing begins.