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Let’s not arrest feds for doing their jobs

That won’t help resolve prairie chicken dispute

By The Mercury

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has struck again. Now he’s criticizing a House committee for not being confrontational enough in a bill that declares that the federal government has no authority to regulate Lesser Prairie Chickens or their habitat in Kansas.

Mr. Kobach is irked because the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Washington Republican Sharon Schwartz, stripped a provision that would have allowed Kansas to charge federal employees who try to enforce federal regulations pertaining to the Lesser Prairie Chicken with a felony and to fine them $100 for each time they try to enforce the federal regulations.

So riled up is Mr. Kobach that he had a staff member of his re-election campaign issue this shrill tweet: “URGENT ALERT — PRAIRIE CHICKEN BILL GUTTED! Call your state reps today. The ability of the state to step in and defend Kansas landowners is now restricted.”

That’s nonsense. All that would be restricted by the committee’s action is Mr. Kobach’s personal crusade against the federal government.

We hope Kansans call their state reps today to tell them that Rep. Schwartz has handled a difficult situation well. Although the state Senate approved a bill with the provisions Mr. Kobach deems essential, the notion that Kansas law enforcement officials should arrest federal officials for enforcing federal law when it conflicts with Kansas law is silly. Yet that’s what Mr. Kobach wants to happen.

This issue exists because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans last week to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a threatened species. The agency did so largely because the five states that make up the birds’ habitat had fewer than 18,000 Lesser Prairie Chickens in 2013, barely half of the 2012 population.

Among opponents’ concerns are that regulations involved in protecting the species could take a severe toll on agriculture, as well as on energy jobs and development in western Kansas. Those concerns are valid, as is the assertion that drought played a significant role in the birds’ one-year decline.

Also questioning the wisdom of the federal action is an association of wildlife officials from the five states that form the birds’ habitat. Those officials think that working with agriculture and other interests, they can protect and even restore the Lesser Prairie Chicken’s habitat. In addition to Kansas, those states are Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico.

What the House bill does — appropriately — is allow Attorney General Derek Schmidt to go to court to block the federal conservation efforts. On Wednesday, in fact, Mr. Schmidt said Kansas has joined a federal court case on the subject in Oklahoma. In that case, Oklahoma contends that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not following the federal process for listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken and other species as threatened.

Such a route might not be confrontational enough for Mr. Kobach, but it’s an adult way to resolve the conflict.

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