SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Despite a scientific recommendation against it, a Kansas commission voted to remove the redbelly snake from the state’s threatened species list in response to complaints from developers and the possibility of retaliation from state lawmakers.
The Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission voted 6-1 Thursday to remove the snake from the list and categorize it as “a species in need of conservation.” That designation provides little protection from habitat destruction, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/1Fay5C1 ).
A Kansas Threatened and Endangered Species committee recommended that the snake be left on the threatened list after finding no evidence that the snakes’ population had improved in several decades.
Although he said he didn’t doubt those findings, Robin Jennison, who heads Wildlife and Parks, asked the commission to delist the snake because he feared that lawmakers would impose more limitations on his department. During the last legislative session, a bill was introduced to delist the snake, and another would have ended Kansas’ threatened and endangered species program.
“Right now, I am convinced if we don’t take this action it will impact our agency, and our ability to manage endangered species,” Jennison told the commission. He said his department would try to find other ways to help the small, secretive snake.
The Kansas Sierra Club urged the commission to consider the precedent that would be set if it chose political considerations over scientific findings. They said it was the first time in 40 years the commission had overruled the committee’s recommendation.
“Delisting the redbelly snake administratively will accomplish what the Legislature attempted to do last session,” Elaine Giessel, the group’s endangered species chairwoman, read from a prepared statement. “The result is the same. No species currently listed will be safe from arbitrary delisting; no new species is likely ever to be added.”
Developers said the snake’s threatened status had caused costly delays in some projects in northeast Kansas, even though the snake had never been considered common in Kansas.
Tim Fobes, an environmental consultant with the city of Olathe, said few redbellies have been found in Kansas. He said the snake is considered common in Missouri and many other states.
And Susan Pekarek, chief engineer for the Johnson County Water Works, said two sewer projects, worth about $30 million, paid about $94,000 in mitigation because of redbelly snakes.
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