A U.S. District Court has struck down a rule designating critical habitat for the Arkansas River Shiner in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of 17 agricultural organizations, water districts and a municipal water authority representing land owners and residents in four states.
"This is a huge victory for land owners," said Steve Kouplen, president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and coalition member.
The court ruled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrongly designated critical habitat for the shiner by failing to conduct a proper economic analysis.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service basically said there was no economic impact and they were wrong," Kouplen said.
Designating critical habitat would have restricted land use on approximately 42,600 acres of privately owned property adjacent to the Cimarron River in Oklahoma and Kansas, the Beaver/North Canadian River in Oklahoma, the Canadian/South Canadian River in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas, and the Arkansas River in Kansas. Oklahoma had the most affected river miles, totaling around 900 miles.
"We have always believed the government has failed to follow its own definition for critical habitat and failed to use adequate scientific and economic evidence," Kouplen said.
The federal court ruled the USFWS must now properly propose critical habitat for the shiner within one year. This is in accordance with the statutory time limits set forth in the Endangered Species Act.
The efforts of the coalition have been coordinated by the Oklahoma Agricultural Legal Foundation, which was created by Oklahoma Farm Bureau in 2001 to protect the rights of farmers and ranchers.
Coalition members include: Oklahoma Farm Bureau, New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, North Plains Ground water Conservation District No. 2, Kansas Farm Bureau, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, Settlers Ditch Co., Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Assoc., Panhandle Ground Water Conservation District, PROAG, Canadian River Municipal Water Authority, Environmental Federation of Oklahoma, Inc., Oklahoma Farmers Union, Texas Cattle Feeders Assoc., Oklahoma Panhandle Agriculture and Irrigation Assoc., Kansas Livestock Assoc., Hitch Enterprises and High Plains Underground Water Conservation District No. 1.