Government sues former AG candidate over death of 40,000 trees

He ran for Oklahoma Attorney General last year and lost and now finds himself sued by the federal government.

Tulsa attorney Gentner Drummond is accused by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of spraying herbicide that killed more than 40,000 trees around Birch and Skiatook lakes in northeast Oklahoma.

The lawsuit also filed against the Drummond Ranch LLC and two companies hired to spray the herbicides on land near the lakes.

On behalf of the Corps of Engineers, the government filed suit in federal court on Feb. 8, claiming violation of Oklahoma state law governing “damages for wrongful injuries to timber,” trespass, and violations of rules and regulations governing public use of Corps property according to a report in the Tulsa World.

The government seeks compensation for the destruction of the trees, compensatory damages for “injuries to timbers,” compensatory damages for trespass and destruction, an injunction preventing any further damage and court costs.

“My family and I have ranched the Osage since before statehood,” he wrote in a statement provided to the Tulsa World. “The Corps of Engineers exercised its power of eminent domain during the ’70s to take part of our ranch. We have remained faithful stewards and good neighbors since that time. Also since the ’70s, we have regularly controlled black jack oak trees with aerial spraying to enhance the native bluestem grasses and provide for the natural wildlife.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment “due to the early state of litigation.”

In the court filing, the Corps cites an investigation it requested from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture that found that more than 40,000 trees on property belonging to the Corps were killed without permission between 2014 and November 2017, when herbicide was used on the adjacent ranch.

It also states that Drummond acknowledged in the investigation to hiring services to make herbicide applications to 1,000 acres of Corps property per year and “was not concerned with property boundaries.”

Drummond said the Corps’ estimation of acreage was inflated.

The services named in the suit are Regier Flying Service LLC of Fairview and Bluestem Aerial Sprayers LLC of Cushing.

The Osage County ranch is owned by Gentner Drummond and should not be confused with the Drummond Land & Cattle Co. of “Pioneer Woman” fame, which also is in Osage County, near Pawhuska, and shares no business or operational connection.

“I cannot explain the government’s position, but it appears contrary to wildlife management and natural range development,” Drummond wrote in his statement. “In this instance, it appears that the government is alleging that some portions of our spraying drifted into the government lands that were formerly ours and it is complaining about our improvements.”

“This is simply one of life’s ironies,” he noted. “As land stewards, we would much prefer that the government attend to the salt water scars and other deleterious injuries to its and our lands through the (Bureau of Indian Affairs’) inattention and malfeasance in Osage County.”

Drummond was referencing an Osage County case in which his law firm challenged the Department of the Interior and the BIA on their application of the National Environmental Policy Act. With a favorable ruling from Chief Judge Gregory K. Frizzell, the case voided one oil lease and bolstered a class-action suit demanding environmental assessments of individual well sites rather than application of a countywide assessment established in 1979.

“In the end, we will remain conservationists and stewards of the land that our government should protect,” Drummond said.