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Counties hoping to halt listing

9/6/2013

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Mahlon Tuttle has been criss-crossing the western third of Kansas, on a recruiting mission.

He's hoping to expand the number of counties joining a consortium of counties in the home territory of the lesser prairie chicken, targeted for possible inclusion on the federal endangered species list.

"I'm not an expert on the chicken itself," Tuttle told Ellis County commissioners Tuesday evening. Tuttle serves as vice chairman of the Kansas Natural Resource Coalition.

He asked the commissioners to join with other western Kansas counties in a quest to ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to not list the bird as threatened.

Armed with a sheaf of documents and a pair of reports, Tuttle said participation carries with it a small cost, about $2,700.

"If you join, we'll have 30" counties, he said.

Commissioners didn't commit to joining or even signing a pair of resolutions, instead seeking more information on what is being proposed.

"We think the county commission coalition has a better conservation plan than the federal government," Tuttle said.

And he said Robin Jennison, the secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, "is on our side."

He clarified that later, saying Jennison supports the idea of the counties banding together to come up with a plan.

KDWP&T, however, is part of a five-state coalition that's proposing its own conservation plan, including mitigation from the likes of oil and electric development in prairie chicken habitat.

After the meeting, Tuttle said it's not just the money he's after.

"If you join, I don't just want your money," he said of Ellis County. I want your input. I want your voice."

But the 29 other counties -- a number that has fluctuated as counties join and leave the group -- have racked up costs of about $80,000 to get a pair of studies completed.

They've only raised about $40,000, however, some of that coming from Kansas Electric Cooperatives.

Tuttle also asked Ellis commissioners to sign off on a pair of resolutions covering each of the two documents put together for the group.

One of the resolutions would adopt the findings included in the group's conservation, management and study plan, which contends the lesser prairie chicken "is not in immediate or long-term threat of extirpation, threatened throughout its range nor in jeopardy of genetic hybridization."

But the plan also calls for immediate conservation actions, studies and promoting conservation management to residents and landowners.

The second resolution would adopt a natural resource coordination plan and coalition.

The coordination plan is a bit more cumbersome inasmuch as it suggests the federal government is required to coordinate its actions with other governments, in this case county governments.

There have been, however, a number of counties that have agreed to sign both resolutions, which are to be presented to FWS Director Dan Ashe, if the group even gets the chance to meet with him.

It's also not yet known if either document will be accepted by FWS -- much less adopted -- because of timing, as the comment period on the listing has already expired.

Comments by the group already have been made in connection with the proposed listing of the lesser prairie chicken, but they hope to submit the rest of their study and resolutions for counties the birds inhabit.