Oklahoma Says Economy Suffers From Over-Protected Chicken

The state of Oklahoma and an oil and gas industry trade group claim the U.S. is too quick to agree to classify animals as threatened species and they point to the lesser prairie chicken as an example.

The state and the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance alleged in a lawsuit that the Interior Department surrenders too easily to environmental groups when they sue the government over the Endangered Species Act, saying such out-of-court settlements violate the U.S. constitution and have a “crippling effect” on the economy.

State Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt said his state and others joined with private industry and spent $26 million to protect the lesser prairie chicken from extinction. Oklahoma now faces the prospect that the federal government will impose new restrictions on land use because a New Mexico-based conservation group demanded that the chicken be deemed “threatened,” he said.

“Increasingly, federal agencies are colluding with like-minded special interest groups by using ‘sue and settle’ tactics to reach ‘friendly settlements’ of lawsuits filed by the interest groups,” Pruitt said in a statement today announcing his lawsuit against the Interior Department in federal court in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Roll Back

The Oklahoma City-based energy producers’ group and state officials are seeking a court order rolling back U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accords in endangered species cases.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, said in an e-mail that the matter was being reviewed.

The underlying lawsuit cited by the trade group and Pruitt was filed in 2010 against the Fish and Wildlife Service by the Santa Fe, New Mexico-based conservation group WildEarth Guardians in federal court in Washington and settled a year later without Oklahoma’s input.

Fish and Wildlife agreed to decide by the end of this month whether to classify the lesser prairie chicken as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, a determination that would restrict land uses in five states including Oklahoma, according to Pruitt’s statement.

The case is Oklahoma v. Department of the Interior, 14-cv-00123, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Oklahoma (Tulsa).