WASHINGTON, March 19, 2014 – The lesser prairie chicken will be the subject of yet another lawsuit, but this potential endangered species candidate is in good company, along with the Sprague’s pipit, the rabbitsfoot mussel and the Arkansas darter.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on Monday, alleging the FWS engaged in “sue and settle” tactics when the agency agreed to settle a lawsuit with a national environmental group over the listing status of several animal species. The Oklahoma-based Domestic Energy Producers Alliance (DEPA), which represents independent oil and natural gas producers, is party to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed as the listing of the lesser prairie chicken – which has historically called portions of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico as home – as an endangered species appears imminent.

However, signees of Candidate Conservation Agreements, or CCAs, would be exempt from laws against the killing, harming or harassing of lesser prairie chickens or harming their nests in the course of routine business operations. The initiative was approved by FWS in December and several landowners, working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, have been improving habitat for the lesser prairie chicken. But here’s the catch: No one can sign up for the CCA once the lesser prairie chicken is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which is expected to be announced March 31.

Pruitt says the entire process is flawed.

“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. These settlements, which often impose tougher regulations and shorter timelines than those imposed by Congress, are having a crippling effect on the U.S. economy,” Pruitt noted in a press release announcing the lawsuit.

“Despite conservation efforts undertaken by the State of Oklahoma, other states, DEPA member companies and other industry participants, FWS purports to be compelled by its settlements to make premature decisions in violation of its obligation to rely upon best scientific and commercial data available as to whether these species should be listed under the ESA as threatened or endangered,” Pruitt noted in the lawsuit.
Wild Earth Guardians sued the FWS in 2010, alleging the agency had not met deadlines in determining the listing status of 251 species, including the lesser prairie chicken. The FWS entered into a consent decree that mandated the agency decide the listing status of those 251 species by September 30, 2015.

For the lesser prairie chicken, the FWS agreed to determine whether to grant the lesser prairie chicken threatened status under the Endangered Species Act by March 31, 2014. A “threatened” listing would restrict land use in the bird’s five-state habitat.
The lesser prairie chicken has been under evaluation for the Endangered Species List for years, leading the state of Oklahoma, along with other states and private industry, to spend $26 million to develop a voluntary and comprehensive conservation plan to protect the animal.
“Oklahoma has spent millions to develop a conservation plan that offers adequate protections for the lesser prairie chicken, yet those efforts could be undone without input from the state because of a consent decree between the FWS and a national environmental group,” Pruitt said. “Oklahoma has indicated its willingness to protect the lesser prairie chicken but it seems increasingly clear this issue isn’t about sound science or saving endangered species. Using the courts to impose regulations undermines the rule of law.”


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