Rural Oklahoma Pushes Back On Big Chicken

I prefer promoting local, organic foods, but lately I’ve been working with Emily Oakley and Mike Appel from Three Springs organic farm in Oaks, Oklahoma on a chicken house threat to their farm. We led a huge citizen outcry, joined by many organizations and the Cherokee Nation and shut it down in 3 weeks. Maybe you read the news article published in our newsletter last month. Click here for article.

 We have great news in follow-up, the Cherokee Nation closed on the purchase of the 60 acre property in Oaks, and the land and spring creek are now protected from chicken house development!  We are immeasurably grateful to the tribe and the countless supporters who worked on this effort. It was some amazing organizing by concerned citizens – really fast. We are keenly aware of how many important cultural, historical and environmental issues came together as the stars aligned on this struggle.

Last Sunday we organized a small strategy meeting with neighbors from around Northeastern Oklahoma to discuss next steps in addressing the proliferation of chicken houses in the area.  We recognize that chicken houses exist, but the numbers and concentration currently being built provides undue stress on communities and land. 

Neighbors shared their stories of why they love this rural area, sharing original family allotment land with their kids and grandkids in beautiful Green Country. They also shared their fears and concerns. One man at the meeting said there are 30 chicken houses within a mile of his house!  30 houses containing 50,000 birds per house is 1.5 million birds, and that is simply unfair to the neighbors and land in that area. 

Of great concern were the number of people who are reporting that their wells are drying up as chicken houses drill deep wells and consume large amounts of water.With lower population density, fewer regulations, and a number of other issues, rural Oklahoma generally offers limited pushback.  But the magnitude of the changes these houses are causing communities and the shear numbers of them being built have galvanized people into action.  Rural roads are being torn up and the air pollution from burning dead chickens is unbearable. We also see opportunities for urban/rural alliances on this topic as threats to Tulsa's drinking water from excess manure and recreational opportunities impact city folks. 

We’ve had great media coverage from Tulsa and local news, and I'm getting calls and messages from concerned citizens who have seen our success and they need advice on their own battle.

Our success has inspired others in the region to speak up, “There are 24 chicken houses within a three-mile radius of our home,” said Shirlene Denny. Shirlene and Wayne Denny live between Jay and Colcord. They spoke during public comments at Monday’s commissioners meeting. 

One of the reports the Denny’s are hearing is that 12 mega houses are scheduled to be built in the area, Shirlene Denny said after the meeting. “We don’t know when or if they are building six houses at time or all at once – or if there is any truth to this at all,” Shirlene Denny said.

“They have sucked our [375-foot] well dry,” Wayne Denny said during the meeting. “We have never been notified. Denny said legally the Arkansas poultry companies are supposed to notify residents when a new poultry houses are being built.”

We are meeting again in 2 weeks and will work on policies regarding public notices, public hearings, setback requirements, and management plans by watershed that also limit the number of houses within a geographic region. We also hope to work with the OK Department of Agriculture to see if there are ways of working within the existing rules to provide more protection.

Amanda Hodges