State mulls easing protection of snake species

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — State officials are considering easing regulatory protection of a short, reclusive snake found in northeast Kansas.

The possible change comes amid complaints that the redbelly snake’s designation as a threatened species has held up developments. When a species is listed as threatened, developers must obtain a permit and take steps to mitigate the harm caused by their projects.

The Hutchinson News reports that the Threatened and Endangered Species Task Force, which is chaired by a Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism biologist, recommended that the snake remain listed as threatened.

But the department’s secretary, Robin Jennison, exercised his authority to alter the recommendation and urged downgrading the snake to a “species in need of conservation,” which would provide it less protection. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission is expected to consider changes to the redbelly snake and several other species when it convenes in October.

During a commission meeting Thursday at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center near Great Bend, representatives of the Kansas Wildlife Federation and the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club spoke in favor of leaving the redbelly snake as “threatened.” The latter organization also objected to another recommendation before the commission to change the status of the smooth earth snake from threatened to a species in need of conservation.

“Who’s driving your bus? It should be you,” said Joni Godsy, Shawnee resident and advocate for the snake, when she addressed the commission. The wildlife artist and photographer thought the commission was bowing to pressure from developers and politicians.

Jennison said there has been public exasperation over federal and state regulations to protect species.

“I’m very concerned that we are going to lose public support for what we do,” Jennison said. “We need to not use a hammer.”

 

 

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