Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has formally objected to an attempt by the U.S. Department of Justice to move a lawsuit challenging federal regulation of the lesser prairie chicken from Oklahoma to Washington, D.C.
"This is an issue of vital regional concern," Schmidt said. "It should be settled here, on the Great Plains, where people, economic activity and land use are affected, not removed to the East Coast simply to make the litigation more convenient for the federal government."
In March, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced it would list the lesser prairie chicken as a "threatened" species under the Endangered Species Act, triggering additional federal requirements in the areas where the species lives, including much of southwest Kansas.
Soon after the listing was announced, Schmidt and the attorneys general of the states of Oklahoma and North Dakota, along with affected private parties, filed suit in the federal district court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma challenging the process by which the listing decision was made. The State of Nebraska has recently filed pleadings seeking to join the litigation as a co-plaintiff.
The Department of Justice has sought to have the lawsuit transferred from federal court in Oklahoma to federal court in the District of Columbia. Schmidt and the other plaintiffs are fighting to keep the lawsuit where it was filed and on Wednesday filed a motion before the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in Washington, D.C., to block the transfer of the lawsuit.
The Kansas Legislature also passed, and Gov. Sam Brownback signed, a law prohibiting the federal government from enforcing regulations of both the lesser and greater prairie chickens, declaring that only Kansas has jurisdiction over the birds inside state borders.
The new law also says Kansas can bring charges against federal officials who attempt to enforce regulations that restrict agricultural or oil and gas activities in the prairie chicken habitat.