Endangered Species Victories

Bison to get consideration under the ESA
A federal judge ruled yesterday in a case argued by Friends of Animals that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally denied Endangered Species Act protections for the Yellowstone National Park bison population. The ruling overturns the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s negative 90-day finding, which concluded that there was not substantial information supporting the need to protect the bison under the Endangered Species Act.

“This is huge that the Court recognized the importance of science,” says Michael Harris, an attorney with Friends of Animals who argued the case for Buffalo Field Campaign and Western Watersheds Project. “It sends a signal to the Fish and Wildlife Service that they cannot manipulate the science to serve political interests, like cattle ranchers.”

“This moves bison back into queue for full and fair consideration under the Endangered Species Act,” said Buffalo Field Campaign Executive Director Ken Cole. “That’s so important for these small subpopulations who are at grave risk of blinking out under the current Interagency Bison Management Plan.”


FoA intervenes, secures victory for prairie dogs and the ESA
In March of 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2014 decision by a federal district judge in Utah that sought to strip the Utah prairie dog of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Judge Dee Benson had ruled that Congress exceeded its authority under the U.S. Constitution when it authorized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prohibit the killing or harassment of Utah prairie dogs on public lands. The federal district court had adopted a species-by-species approach, arguing that the federal government had to first demonstrate that a species had value in interstate commerce before it could protect the species under the ESA.

The Tenth Circuit, agreeing with other federal courts, rejected this species-specific approach. “This is a huge victory for Utah prairie dogs and the ESA,” says Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program.

Friends of Animals (FoA) immediately intervened in a 2013 lawsuit brought by People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners (PETPO) challenging the USFWS’ decision to list the Utah prairie dog as a threatened species, as it restricted what landowners can do in regards to managing the species on private land.

In Tenth Circuit opinion, authored by Judge Jerome Holmes, the court concluded that under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, Congress can extend protection to any species, regardless of its specific commercial value, because such regulation “is an essential part of a broader regulatory scheme that substantially affects interstate commerce.”
Indeed, as the court made clear, in passing the ESA, Congress specifically sought to both place a “short-term” brake on human economic activity that threatened the existence of species like the Utah prairie dog and to promote “long-term” sustainable commerce by conserving individual species and their habitats.

“On display in this case is an ongoing, fundamental dispute over the value of America’s natural heritage,” Harris says. “On one side, a minority of private property owners and some state governments appear to view members of the animal kingdom as being valueless and unworthy of protection unless they can be reduced to mere ‘commodities.’ Accordingly, in their view, if an animal cannot be sold or traded, then it is no more than a mere pest to be eradicated to make way for human development.

“On the other side, Friends of Animals, numerous scientists and millions of Americans recognize that protection of all members of the North American biota—from the smallest fungi to the greatest of mammals—is essential to biodiversity and to human economic health.”


Shark ESA protections
Last year the National Marine Fisheries Service announced that it would finalize an Obama-era proposal to list the daggernose shark, Brazilian guitarfish, striped smoothhound shark, spiny angel shark and Argentine angel shark as endangered species, and the narrownose smoothhound shark as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Friends of Animals was part of the coalition that commented in support of the listing.

Each of these species is at risk of extinction in the very near future. As is usually the case, the single greatest threat to these animals comes from humans.

“Fishing throughout the world is causing catastrophic loss of these animals,” said Michael Harris, FOA’s Wildlife Law Program Director. “In some cases these animals are intentionally targeted by humans, but it is often true that large numbers of sharks are killed each year as bycatch in fishermen’s gillnets. ESA protection is expected to help, but only a worldwide ban on the use of gillnets will ultimately prevent their extinction.”

That came on the heels of the first shark species gaining protections. Scalloped hammerhead sharks became the first species of shark to be protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The final rule to list four of the existing six distinct population segments of scalloped hammerhead sharks as threatened (Indo-West Pacific DPS and Central/SW Atlantic DPS) or endangered (Eastern Atlantic DPS and Eastern Pacific DPS) was published on July 3 of 2014 by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The move comes in response to a 2011 petition from WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals.


Two rare macaw species gain ESA protection

On Oct.1, 2015 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (UFWS) listed the military and great green macaws as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Both bird species are endemic to Central and South America. The final rule went into effect Nov. 1.

Friends of Animals (FoA) filed a legal petition with the UFWS in 2008 requesting listing for 14 species of parrots. The agency found that 12 of the 14 species warranted a status review to determine if listing was appropriate.

“This is an important step in ensuring that these animals continue to survive in the wild,” said Michael Harries, director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “It also exposes those who desire these wild birds as pets and showpieces for what they are; namely the primary culprits behind the demise of these animals in their native habitats. It is time to punish this criminal behavior and promote the importance of keeping wild animals, like the military and green macaws, in the wild and out of our homes.”

The agency found that the military and great green macaws are in decline, primarily due to habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation, small population size and poaching for the illegal pet trade. Further, the existing regulatory mechanisms designed to protect these macaws are not adequate to prevent those threats from impacting them throughout their ranges. As a result both macaws are at risk of extinction throughout their ranges – the definition of an endangered species – and in need of protection.

As a result of this listing, certain activities involving these two bird species will be prohibited without a permit, including: import into and export out of the United States; “take” (defined by the ESA as harm, harass, kill, injure, etc.) within the United States; and interstate and foreign commerce. By regulating these activities, the ESA ensures that U.S. citizens and individuals subject to the jurisdiction of the United States do not contribute to the further decline of these species.

Five sturgeon species gain ESA protection

The National Marine Fisheries Service (Fisheries Service) listed five species of sturgeon as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because of severe threats posed by human exploitation, dams and pollution. The finding comes in response to a March 2012 petition by WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals. Sturgeon are described by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as the most imperiled group of animals on earth. The five species of ancient fish live in rivers and seas in Europe and Asia.

“These magnificent fish species have inhabited our planet for more than 200 million years and are worth more than the sum of their parts,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “We are thrilled that they now have the strongest possible legal protections.”

Human exploitation is the single largest cause of sturgeon population collapses: large declines in these species’ numbers are due to historical unsustainable fisheries. The demand for sturgeon meat and caviar means that human exploitation, both legal and illegal, remains a threat today. Dams, dikes and channels, pollution and poor water quality, and range loss are also threats to all of the species. Naturally small populations and slow reproductive rates increase the risk of extinction for these long-lived animals. Dams impede sturgeons’ ability to spawn, and the loss of eggs and breeding adults to the caviar trade means that depleted populations may take decades to recover.

“We are pleased for these sturgeon and equally pleased that Friends of Animals helped to tear down the barrier that for too long now has prevented these species from receiving the ESA protections they need and deserve,” said Michael Harris, Director of Friends of Animals Wildlife Law Program. “We hope this is the end of the policies at the Fisheries Service and other agencies to deny legal protections to marine species that are exploited for human consumption, including not only sturgeon, but sharks, whales, and numerous fish species.”

Listing species under the Endangered Species Act is a proven effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99 percent of plants and animals listed under the Act persist today. The law is especially important as a bulwark against the current extinction crisis; plants and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA listing. Listing species with a global distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species. Listing makes importation, selling, or possession of caviar or meat from any of these sturgeon species illegal in the United States.