Three environmental groups Tuesday sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming the government did not go far enough this spring when it designated the lesser prairie chicken as “threatened” rather than “endangered.”
The action comes less than two weeks after several oil and natural gas industry groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming the designation is too strong.
Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians filed their lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, saying the government “failed to adequately protect” the bird that is native to much of western Oklahoma. The environmental groups say they are concerned that the “threatened” distinction allows the agency to issue incidental take permits under what the environmental groups called “a series of unproven, voluntary conservation agreements.”
“Habitat destruction and drought are continuing to devastate the small remaining population of this magnificent grassland bird,” said Jay Lininger, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “These unenforceable pro-industry agreements fail to ensure the level of protection required by the Endangered Species Act to avert extinction.”
The lesser prairie chicken was listed as threatened on March 27. Authorities said the ruling minimized restrictions on energy production, agriculture and other activity in states where the bird has its habitat.
Only about 34,000 left
The agency estimates there are more than 34,000 birds in five states, including Oklahoma.
While the environmental groups say the fish and wildlife service should take stronger action, Oklahoma’s two largest industry groups and two of the country’s largest oil and gas trade associations earlier this month said the agency already has gone too far.
Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association, American Petroleum Institute, Independent Petroleum Association of America, Western Energy Alliance and International Association of Geophysical Contractors on June 6 filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Tulsa, arguing the agency did not consider the best available science in deciding to protect the bird.
The groups said the oil and gas industry has invested in conservation efforts while voluntarily working with the fish and wildlife service to ensure the lesser prairie chicken population can thrive.
The lawsuit does not challenge the agency’s decision to endorse extensive voluntary conservation efforts that have been developed by the industry and states that already are working to protect the lesser prairie chicken, officials said.