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Our Legal Actions

“We do not purport to know what is best for any wild animal; we only seek to be a surrogate for these creatures in the human-controlled courtrooms and legislatures around the world where humans too often make horrific judgments about the fate of wild animals.”

— Michael Harris, Director Wildlife Law Program

The Wildlife Law Program of Friends of Animals focuses on the defense of wildlife and their habitats throughout the world. Attorneys with the Wildlife Law Program utilize a variety of environmental laws to promote the rights of wildlife, including the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, and international treaties like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Our current actions include:

Wild Horse Litigation

Friends of Animals has brought over a dozen cases to protect wild horses. Our lawsuits have stopped the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from rounding up thousands of horses in Wyoming, from limiting a Montana wild horse herd size to an outdated, low population target, and from attempting to loosen restrictions on the sale of wild horses to private parties that would have meant slaughter for thousands of horses. But the fight is not over. As BLM repeatedly tries to commodify our public lands by catering to the meat industry and other polluters, our lawsuits to protect wild horses and burros are more important than ever. Friends of Animals is the only organization currently challenging BLM’s new policy to issue long-term decisions that would give the agency complete control over wild horses and burros for decades at a time with no public oversight.

Friends of Animals is also currently seeking additional legal protections for the Pryor Mountain Mustangs, a unique population of wild horses with Old Spanish genetic lineage nestled between the Pryor Mountains and the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in Montana and Wyoming. While BLM continues to mismanage this herd and put them on a path to extinction, Friends of Animals submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to get these wild horses protected under the Endangered Species Act. After the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected Friends of Animals petition, we filed a lawsuit so that these wild horses can get the protection they deserve.

Barred Owls and Northern Spotted Owls

Friends of Animals is challenging permits that allow timber companies to permanently destroy northern spotted owl habitat. The government issued these permits to further a short-sighted experiment that involves killing over 3,600 barred owls in the in the Pacific Northwest. The experiment is designed to determine how killing one owl species will impact another. Not only is this experiment cruel, it is also an unfeasible management strategy. The challenged permits only exacerbate the primary threat to northern spotted owls—habitat destruction, primarily due to logging of old growth forest. This is one of the first times that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to protect one species by killing another native species. Thus, Friends of Animals’ lawsuit has the potential to shape the future of wildlife management. Friends of Animals continues to fight for conservation actions that are informed by science and animal rights. In January 2020, Friends of Animals won an appeal in the Ninth Circuit that allows the case to move forward.

Prairie Dogs

Prairie dogs are some of the most intelligent and social animals on earth. Sadly, they are also one of many animal species subject to brutal and intentional human destruction. Friends of Animals successfully defended against attacks on protections for Utah prairie dogs under the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, after that win, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service devised a plan that authorizes unlimited removal and killing of Utah prairie dogs across the entire range of their habitat. Friends of Animals is challenging the new plan to ensure this keystone species is protected.

Wild Bison

The wild bison of the Yellowstone are the world’s most important bison population in existence. Fewer than 4,000 exist today due to a government plan that is heavily influenced by Montana livestock interests. Since February 2020, more than 800 of these bison —nearly 18% — have been eliminated through slaughter, quarantine, and hunting. Friends of Animals continues to work to secure a future for this keystone mammal. In 2018, Friends of Animals won a lawsuit requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider a petition to protect this distinct population under the Endangered Species Act. However, the FWS again failed to list the distinct population of bison. Recently, Friends of Animals filed another lawsuit to get the agency to consider the overwhelming evidence that supports listing.

Beluga whales

Beluga whales are extremely social animals who form lifelong bonds with other belugas. They’re known to dive to 1,000-meter depths and deeper for periods of up to 25 minutes — something they can’t do in shallow aquarium tanks. Belugas do not belong in captivity and should not be traded by aquariums or anyone else.

However, Mystic Aquarium is currently trying to import five young beluga whales from Marineland of Canada. Moving these belugas inflicts two distinct traumas on them. It tears them away from deep familial and social relationships that they have formed with the dozens of other belugas at Marineland, and the long and foreign voyage on trucks and airplanes emotionally and psychologically scars them. Friend of Animals filed a lawsuit to prevent the trade of these belugas. The lawsuit challenges the National Marine Fisheries Service’s permit because, among other things, it failed to consider established science about the individual capabilities of belugas and the trauma that the proposed transport would cause.

Hunting

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Americans hunted multiple species of animals to extinction, and hunted others right to the brink. Laws had to be passed which prevented people from killing as many animals as they wanted.

One law forced hunters to purchase a duck stamp in order to kill ducks. Collectors, birders, and conservationists also purchase the duck stamp, which can serve as a free pass to any national wildlife refuge.

A majority — 90 percent — of the purchase price from the duck stamp goes directly to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. There is an annual duck stamp contest to choose what artwork will be showcased on the duck stamp.

However, the Fish & Wildlife Service alienated many by issuing a rule in 2020 that mandated a permanent hunting theme be displayed on the stamps. Friends of Animals filed a lawsuit LINK challenging the rule that made the hunting imagery a mandatory part of the federal duck stamp contest.