Farming & Ranching –

Conservation easements (CEs) often have implications for neighboring property owners, since by design, CEs devalue the encumbered land. Proximity of devalued land can make non-encumbered property less desirable, resulting in a reduction of value for neighboring, non-participating landowners. Prevalent CE transactions generally result in an assessed devaluation varying from 30 to100% for CE-burdened lands, as well nearby properties. Desirability for the vicinity of the CE is affected by habitat ‘conservation’ programs, which may include the introduction or release of endangered species and the restriction of activities associated with a protected species.

KNRC is tracking both the Governor’s Water Plan and the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. Both have the potential to affect KNRC member counties and their citizens through restrictions on water usage, as well as land use. WOTUS could require a permit for almost every farming practice under the overreaching ‘connectivity’ and buffer zones the rule is attempting to establish. The potential impacts to agriculture and industry alike, made WOTUS the subject of ten lawsuits with 31 states — including Kansas — and numerous other entities challenging the rule.

Several species have the potential to affect the management of private property along with public roads, bridges and other infrastructure in member counties. Among the species KNRC is monitoring are the Rusty Patch bumble bee — whose habitat would overlap and cover regions not covered by the listing of the Northern long-eared bat; the Monarch butterfly, like the bees, if listed, may restrict the application of herbicides used for normal farming practices; and the Lesser prairie-chicken — whose listing resulted in the abandonment of several projects in the western Kansas.

The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) revision and consolidation of Kansas’ Resource Management Plan (RMP) continues to be reviewed, as they are proposing to evaluate resources that were not addressed in the previous plans, such as viewsheds and hydraulic fracturing. A viewshed is considered to be anything in the line of site from BLM resources, which may create conflict with the management of non-BLM property.

Agriculture and Industry working in harmony side-by-side.
Agriculture and Industry working in productive harmony side-by-side.

Ranching

Impacts to ranchers, farmers, industry and local governments by the Lesser prairie-chicken (LPC) began in December 2012, when the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed to list it as a threatened species. Despite a report finding Data Do Not Support the Proposed Listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken, completed by biologists without a stake in the outcome, who peer reviewed for The Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability (CESAR) all literature cited by USFWS as justification to list the LPC, USFWS chose to ignore the facts and listed the LPC in April of 2014.

In May of 2015, KNRC filed an Amicus (Friend of the Court) brief in support of plaintiffs who were challenging the LPC listing in Judge Robert Junell’s court. On September 1st, Judge Junell found USFWS did not follow their own rules for listing a species and vacated the listing. While the vacated listing is good news, the impacts to management and economic harm caused by the proposal and eventual listing will take many years to recover from and reverse.

At the beginning of September, 2016, USFWS issued its seven-year workplan, which included a discretionary status review of the LPC, scheduling it for fiscal year (FY) 2017. On September 8, 2017, WildEarth Guardians (WEG), Defenders of Wildlife (DW), and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned to list the LPC under the ESA as endangered throughout its range, and requested emergency listing of two distinct population segments (DPSs) of the species. On November 30, 2016, USFWS published it’s 90-day finding in response to the petition, concluding that listing may be warranted, based on the scientific and commercial information referenced in the petition. The agency did not publish an emergency listing for any DPS. USFWS is now performing a 12.month review for the LPC, and has requested additional scientific and commercial information for consideration as part of the review.

The onslaught of environmental regulations in recent years has resulted in an abundance of new federal initiatives, making it imperative for ranchers and land managers to read the ‘fine print’ before enrolling in programs targeting conservation of species or resources. An example is the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative, which may include agreement to remove ‘invasive’ vegetation – e.g. eastern red cedar (often present in windbreaks) or fences, as well as prescribed grazing that may mean yearlong or seasonal rest from grazing in critical areas of LPC habitat. The long standing Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) now includes compliance with LPC habitat conservation, as well.

Calf utilizing stalks following fall harvest.

USFWS is currently reviewing Monarch butterflies for listing in the entire USA except Alaska.  One of the country’s leading Monarch butterfly scientists expressed concern that the federal government stepping in and telling property owners to conserve certain vegetation to provide habitat for butterflies may not be the best path for conservation. A listing of the butterfly may affect the chemical control of weeds such as milkweed. On November 12, 2015, USDAs Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) launched a new effort targeting ten states (including Kansas) to aid Monarch butterflies. Under the program, NRCS plans to provide technical and financial assistance to help producers and conservation partners (nongovernmental organizations – NGOs) plant milkweed in pastures, along field borders, in buffers along waterways or around wetlands and other suitable locations. NRCS plans to help producers manage their pastures in ways that increase critical populations of milkweed and claim it will improve the health of the rangelands. This claim fails to recognize that as a group, milkweed species are known to contain cardiac glycosides, which are poisonous to humans and livestock. NRCS is one of more than fifty partners in the Monarch Joint Venture. A visit to the joint venture’s ‘Partners’ page is a real eye-opener as to the maturity and extent of this initiative.

KNRC opposes the Waters of the US (WOTUS) rule — currently blocked by a federal court from implementation — which if allowed to stand will result in management restrictions for range and farm land through the establishment of buffer zones, permitting requirements, and use restrictions from both the US Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Detailed information can be found here.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently revising and consolidating Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas’ Resource Management Plans (RMPs) into a single multi-state RMP. This creates concern for ranchers through the potential establishment of viewsheds, which are subjective and can affect everything for as far as the eye can see, and landscape scale management that ignores state and county jurisdictional boundaries on and under BLM-administered federal lands. BLM may also create buffer zones and other infringements on neighboring private property. Additional information can be found here.

The National Park Service (NPS) is currently operating outside a Congressionally mandated time limit to evaluate designation of the Chisholm and Great Western Trails as National Historic trails. Congress mandated NPS provide a recommendation by September 30, 2012, which they failed to meet, yet they continue to expend funds on the evaluation process. Private property makes up 98.5% of the “Trails” in Kansas and 97.5% over the four states and a designation may encumber local budgets with unfunded federal mandates. KNRC believes citizens would be better served by local preservation efforts, which do not carry the potential for future designation as National Monuments or other property right infringing programs.

In March 2015,  NPS announced a backlog of nearly $11.5 Billion of deferred maintenance for assets they currently manage, which leaves the agency unlikely to be capable of properly maintaining the trail system if it becomes established. KNRC is concerned by potential impacts to private property owners, particularly since on page 25 of the Draft Chisholm and Great Western National Historic Trails Feasibility Study / Draft Environmental Assessment Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas (CHGW) states, “… an intensive inventory of the routes [Chisholm and Great Western trails] for high potential sites and segments could cost upwards of $4,000,000. The cost of these inventories would likely be borne by the landowner/manager.” NPS has already disclosed over $5 million is for holdings in Kansas.  Finally, “The National Trails System Act provides for a federal lead agency [NPS in this case] to administer each national scenic trail and national historic trail in PERPETUITY [FOREVER],” if the designation is made. KNRC submitted comments to NPS in opposition to the designation.

Proposed National Historic Trails map with the plan stating, "inventory of the routes for high potential sites and segments could cost upwards of $4,000,000. The cost of these inventories would likely be borne by the landowner/manager."
Proposed National Historic Trails map with the plan stating, “inventory of the routes for high potential sites and segments could cost upwards of $4,000,000. The cost of these inventories would likely be borne by the landowner/manager.”

Each of these issues alone and even more so cumulatively are negatively effecting the economic viability of the communities KNRCs member counties represent.

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