Finney County Commission Commission seeks coordinating status on lesser prairie chicken issue

4/7/2014

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Finney County commissioners hope to have a seat at the table when conservation rules are drawn up regarding the lesser prairie chicken being listed as a threatened species.

The commission signed a letter to the Bureau of Land Management on Monday, requesting the county be granted coordinating status during revision of the BLM resource management plan and preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement related to the lesser prairie chicken listing.

The letter was proposed by Jim Carlson, executive director of the Kansas National Resource Coalition, in response to a letter the BLM sent to counties within the KNRC requesting some local government participation in the process.

"They're coming at us. What I'm saying is these federal initiatives, the rule making is going to be part of the process. The only question is whether local government is going to participate. The coordinating status allows you to do that," Carlson said.

County commissioners didn't like the tone of the letter received by BLM, which made reference to cooperation rather than coordination, a more limited status according to Carlson.

"It sounds to me like they don't want us to participate in anything. They're gonna cover us up with fluff and do what they want to do," Commissioner Larry Jones said.

"I think we need to put some bureaucrats on the Endangered Species list," Commissioner Dave Jones quipped.

The county has been working with KNRC for more than a year and with 31 other western Kansas counties to develop their own conservation plan for the lesser prairie chicken. The county signed off in August on a KNRC natural resource coordination plan and Lesser Prairie Chicken conservation, management and study plan.

Carlson indicated the KNRC is still dedicated to changing the direction of the bird's listing. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on March 27 plans to list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, primarily due to habitat loss. The bird's range includes western Kansas and areas of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.

Historically, the resource management plan has been done state by state, Carlson said, but now the plan consolidates Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, mirroring the lesser prairie chicken's habitat. Carlson said the resource management plan also will address endangered species and wildlife habitat.

Carlson believes it's important to challenge the listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species before it is finalized. The decision is anticipated to go into effect around May 1.

According to Carlson, coordinating status means the county's concerns must be heard and considered by the BLM because the county previously adopted a Natural Resource Coordination Plan that includes resource priorities and methods for evaluating impacts due to major federal action, such as listing of the prairie chicken.

"This is the county land use plan as pertains to federal initiatives. You have a land use plan in place that if you invoke coordination, the Bureau of Land Management has to attempt consistency with it. They have to take this plan. They have to, and they will," Carlson said.

Resources addressed in the NRCP include energy extraction, water quality and resources, general agriculture, farming and ranching, maintaining multiple land use priorities, livestock grazing and management, wildlife and threatened species, habitat conservation, and vegetation and invasive species management.

"All of those priorities need to be examined during any major federal initiative. It's now incumbent upon BLM to reconcile the consistency with your plan," Carlson said. "It's a very big deal. It puts you in the seat where you can ask questions, and you can slow the process down, and we can have a look at the economics, provide data and BLM has to look at it."

Carlson added that he will be meeting with ExxonMobil executives this week in an attempt to enlist the corporation's assistance in trying to turn back the lesser prairie chicken ruling.

In other business Monday:

* Commissioners signed off on a summary of the Community Corrections fiscal year 2015 comprehensive plan update and proposed budget, which will be submitted to the Kansas Department of Corrections.

Beth Beavers, director, said the plan has changed little from the previous year. She said Community Corrections has a performance-based budget with a goal of 75 percent successful closure set by the state that the local agency is on target to meet or exceed.

* Commissioners granted a waiver to allow Garden City Co-op to install two highway signs at its Friend facility on U.S. Highway 83, and the Wolf facility on U.S. Highway 50 that will direct traffic to their elevators during harvest.

John McClelland, Garden City Co-op, said the cooperative has been replacing old directional signs in several counties. Replacing signs in existing locations only require switching state identification tags. New sign locations require counties to agree before the state will issue those tags.

McClelland said the co-op had little trouble getting approval for new locations in Lane and Grant counties, but for the two locations in Finney County they were told by the community planning department they would need to have the property rezoned as commercial because the signs were deemed to be advertising.

"Quite frankly, we're not going to do that," McClelland said.

Before the waiver was granted, McClelland indicated signs would be installed in Scott and Kearny counties and trucks could be rerouted along roads in those counties if necessary.

"It's a significant safety issue. If you've got an elevator with a decent harvest, you're talking somewhere between 2,000 to 3,500 trucks and possibly more going in and out. We think it's a good idea to have a sign on the highway to give directions. It's not for advertising," he said.

Commissioner Duane Drees said zoning officials told him the issue was more one of allowing signs on private land, and that the issue could be fixed if regulations were tweaked.

In addition to granting the waiver, the county also sent a recommendation to the planning commission to address concerns about allowing directional highway signs on private property.

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