Environmental groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to force the federal government into more aggressive steps to preserve the lesser prairie chicken, but Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback decried the litigation as an attempt to shut down agriculture and energy production in his state.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Washington by Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians. They argue that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision in March to list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species isn't adequate to restore its declining population and the bird should be listed as endangered.
The groups contend listing the bird as threatened still allows hundreds to be killed each year. The five states affected by the listing — Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas — had fewer than 18,000 lesser prairie chickens in 2013, down almost 50 percent from 2012.
"This iconic grassland bird deserves more than a hollow promise of protection," said Jason Rylander, senior attorney with Defenders of Wildlife.
But Kansas officials object to the bird being listed even as threatened. Brownback's administration said farmers, ranchers and energy companies still face restrictions and costly conservation fees.
A new Kansas law says the federal government has no authority to regulate prairie chickens or their habitats within the state's borders and allows the attorney general or local prosecutors to file lawsuits to block federal conservation efforts.
Brownback denounced the groups behind the lawsuit as "extremist environmental organizations."
"What they really seek is a level of economic devastation that would do nothing to enhance the species or its habitat," Brownback said in a statement.