Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt on Monday filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) 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, including the Lesser Prairie Chicken.


“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. Furthermore, because these settlements are taking place without public input, attorneys general are unable to represent the respective interests of their states, businesses, and citizens,” Attorney General Pruitt said.


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 that includes Oklahoma.


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 lesser prairie chicken.


“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,” Attorney General 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.”


According to the state’s lawsuit, the Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by agreeing in its settlement with Wild Earth Guardians to not consider the statutorily-created “warranted but precluded” category when determining the listing status of the 251 candidate species.


The lawsuit also states the FWS violated the law by agreeing to a truncated timeline to the decision-making process on the listing status of the 251 candidate species, essentially sidestepping the rule making process.


The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Tulsa. The Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, which represents a broad coalition of energy producers, is also a party to the lawsuit.