Videos & Speeches

Mr. President, earlier this evening an amendment of mine was made pending to the legislation that we now have before us, amendment No. 73.

I thank my colleagues for allowing that amendment to become pending, and I look forward to the opportunity now, while we are determining the remainder of the evening's schedule, to describe the nature of amendment No. 73.

I have a copy of the amendment in front of me. It is a short paragraph, but it is one that has significant consequences to the people of Kansas. But in addition to the people of Kansas, it has significant consequence to the people of Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The story we are talking about is the lesser prairie-chicken. In March of 2014, the lesser prairie-chicken was listed not as an endangered species but a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

It is true the numbers of birds declined in 2012 and 2013. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had their explanation for why there was the decline in the population of those birds, both those who live on the land as well as a number of wildlife experts--people who are very interested in conservation practices in our state--believe and agree that the primary reason behind the bird's decline in population was the historic and prolonged drought that our area of the country has experienced in the past several years.

There is less habitat for birds generally in our state and across this region of the country, but the reality is that it is because we have had so little rainfall. We have been in a drought in a significant part of the nation, in our part of the country, for a number of years, and as a result there is less habitat and a decline in the bird population. What many believe is that with the return of rainfall, with the return of snow this winter and the moisture it will provide, we will have increasing wildlife habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken and a large number of birds and other wildlife in our state and in the surrounding states where this is a significant issue.

There are some exceptions that have been written into the designation, but the reality is that there are huge, ongoing, significant economic consequences to the listing as a threatened species of the lesser prairie-chicken in Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. Front and center of that, of course, are the consequences to agriculture. It is how we earn a significant portion of our living in our state. Land values, for example, have dropped as a result of this issue. Oil and gas exploration has been disrupted. Wind energy projects that have been an important component of our state’s economy and particularly a benefit to the economy of rural Kansas have been harmed as a result of this listing. These disruptions have driven down county tax revenues that are used for essential services in some of the most challenging and difficult parts economically of our state, from damage to Main Street, and certainly harmed a portion of Kansas that always struggles to be economically viable.

The listing, in my view, was based on an artificially low population estimate due to the drought I described. I guess I failed to mention that 1 year ago this was a bird which could be hunted in Kansas. So, again, it was prevalent enough to be able to be pursued by those who hunt, but because of the drought the population declined. In fact, every Kansas county that is included in the habitat area was experiencing a D3-Extreme or a D4-Exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, again highlighting that what we need here is rainfall and moisture that comes from snow and rain and that listing this as a threatened species doesn't create the moisture necessary to create the habitat for the return of the population of the bird.

What we really have asked for is an opportunity which has been offered and suggested by conservation groups in Kansas, by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, and by the Kansas Farm Bureau and others to work together to find a solution short of this listing to increase bird population in Kansas. And I assume that is true in the other states as well. We are looking for a cooperative effort to improve habitat, and the fact is that the listing as a threatened species has been so disruptive that we have been unable to get what we would say is a more commonsense, less broad-brush approach to solving this problem in place as compared to the heavy hand of this listing. We stand ready, willing, and able to provide that kind of local effort to improve habitat and bird population.

This amendment would not mean the lesser prairie-chicken would never be listed again, but it gives Kansans and others the opportunity to go back and make certain that efforts at the local level are given a chance to work before the very dramatic and devastating implementation of this decision to list the bird as threatened.

So this is a relatively straightforward and simple amendment that will take the lesser prairie-chicken off the list as a threatened species, give Kansans and others the opportunity to improve the habitat, reduce the economic damage that is being done in our state and the states that surround us as a result of this listing, and then give us the opportunity to again work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to find a better solution and one that, I might add, may be more easily found once the rainfalls return to the state of Kansas.