The Wildlife Law Program of Friends of Animals focuses on the defense of wildlife and their habitats throughout the world. Attorneys within the Wildlife Law Program utilize a variety of federal statutes to promote the rights of wildlife, including the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act, as well as state and local legislation where applicable. Our attorneys also work with international treaties like the UN’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
“This is a critical time for reforming our relationship with wildlife. Species are declining at an alarming rate, climate change is alternating the environment and human-wildlife interactions are inevitable. How we address these issues matters. We seek to ensure that the capabilities and lives of wild animals are considered by courtrooms and lawmakers around the world.”
— Jennifer Best, Wildlife Law Program Director
Our current actions include:
Wild Horse Litigation
Friends of Animals has become the leading national wild horse protection organization. We have brought and won more than a dozen cases to protect wild horses. Our lawsuits have stopped the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from needlessly rounding up thousands of horses in Wyoming, from limiting a Montana wild horse herd size to an outdated, low population target, and from attempting to loosen restrictions on the sale of thousands of wild horses to private parties who frequently sell them for slaughter. But the fight is not over. As BLM repeatedly tries to commodify our public lands by catering to the meat industry and other polluters and commercial interests, our lawsuits to protect wild horses and burros are more important than ever.
Friends of Animals is 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. The outcome will affect the future of wild horse management in America.
While BLM continues to mismanage herds and put them on a path to extinction, Friends of Animals continues to use all legal avenues so that these horses can get the protection they deserve. We filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to get the Pryor Mountain Mustangs protected under the Endangered Species Act, and after the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service rejected this petition, we filed a lawsuit to ensure FWS actually follows the proper decision-making process. Friends of Animals won that lawsuit and now the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is required to consider our Endangered Species Action petition.
Alarmingly, recent reports have surfaced about mistreatment of horses who are “adopted” from federal holding facilities. These adoption programs pay people to take horses that have been removed from their homes in the wild and many of these horses end up in other countries’ slaughterhouses. Friends of Animals is currently challenging these actions to ensure no horses are sent to slaughter and is using the Freedom of Information Act so that we have all the information required.
Barred Owls and Northern Spotted Owls
Friends of Animals filed a lawsuit challenging permits that allow timber companies to permanently destroy northern spotted owl habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued these permits to further a short-sighted experiment that involves killing more than 3,600 barred owls in the Pacific Northwest to save spotted owls. This cruel experiment purports to determine how killing one owl species will impact another, but Friends of Animals has shown why this cruel and unfeasible management strategy should not continue. The challenged permits only exacerbate the primary threat to northern spotted owls: habitat destruction due to logging of old growth forest.
The U.S. and Fish and Wildlife Service never found that removal experiment was likely to lead to tangible benefits that would further the recovery of northern spotted owls, but proceeded to issue permits anyways. On March 4, 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an unfavorable opinion that would allow the continued destruction of northern spotted owl habitat. The justification behind the challenged permits and the basis for the Court’s opinion was that information gained from killing barred owls could serve as a net conservation benefit to spotted owls. Friends of Animals believes the opinion overlooked important principles and regulations about conservation and plans to seek a rehearing of this case. Friends of Animals continues to fight for conservation actions that are informed by both a respect for wild animals and sound scientific principles.
Prairie dogs are some of the most intelligent and social animals on earth. Sadly, governments allow humans to subject them to brutal and intentional destruction. Friends of Animals successfully defended Utah prairie dog protections under the Endangered Species Act from attacks by government and industry. Unfortunately, after that win, the U.S. Fish & 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 has ongoing challenges against the new plan to ensure this keystone species is protected.
In Colorado, black-tailed prairie dogs have virtually no protection, and landowners may kill them on-site with no legal recourse. Friends of Animals works with all stakeholders—landowners, neighbors, community activists, and the state wildlife department—to find humane relocation solutions.
The wild bison of the Yellowstone are the world’s most important bison population. Fewer than 4,000 exist today, largely due to the disproportionate influence Montana livestock interests wield over government plans. Since February 2020, federal officials have eliminated more than 800 of these bison—nearly 18%—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 protecting this species under the Endangered Species Act.
Efforts by the national agencies tasked to protect animals in the United States continue to focus on allowing hunters access to more land and to kill animals on wildlife refuges. The WLP continues to press the Fish & Wildlife Service to stop catering to the measly 4 percent of Americans who enjoy killing animals for sport. Monitoring and commenting on these repeated expansions of hunting on National Wildlife Refuges remains an important matter for Friends of Animals. Friends of Animals also ensures that national surveys on hunting participation, from which agencies derive policy, continues to be a fair and accurate representation of participation.
States have enormous power to determine the rules and regulations regarding hunting within their borders. Recently, Friends of Animals challenged a Colorado law that would have forced hikers and birdwatchers to buy hunting or fishing licenses in order to access certain public lands. This effort attempted to make up for the fact that the number of hunters continues to dwindle across the U.S. State wildlife departments desperately cling to an outdated model of conservation via killing, using funds from hunters to provide revenue. Following Friends of Animals lawsuit, the law changed to allow non-hunters access to the same wildlife areas. Friends of Animals will continue to urge these departments to find other ways to fund conservation.
The effects of hunting do not stop at the federal level. Hunters kill large animals such as lions and elephants in other countries, purporting that these killings represent an “enhancement of survival” of the species. WLP attorneys work to ensure these thinly-veiled bloodsport activities comply with international treaties like CITES, as well as U.S. requirements, before hunters can import body parts into the U.S. to display as trophies of
their kill. If hunters cannot show off these dead animals to their friends, the desire to kill them in the first place will dissipate. Utilizing domestic wildlife regulations represents one way in which Friends of Animals can help protect animals in other countries. Our recent victory in litigation involving information about the potential import of elephant and giraffe skins will pave the way for additional lawsuits of this kind.
Due in large part to the overfishing and depletion of fish species in waters all around the world, the recent trend of aquaculture—raising fish for slaughter in crowded enclosures—has grown in the past few years. The most egregious of these systems keep fish packed in cages in the ocean. This has continued even as recent U.S. courts have decided that no lawful aquaculture regulation scheme exists.
WLP has an ongoing challenge against a proposed aquaculture facility in the Gulf of Mexico, which could dump animal waste and pharmaceuticals into the open ocean, which is currently before the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board.
Animals in Entertainment
Friends of Animals believes animals should not suffer so that they may entertain humans. To that end, our Wildlife Law Program continues to challenge the importation and display of animals throughout the United States. Facilities wishing to charge people to see elephants, marine mammals and large cats import these animals from the wild or facilities in other countries. WLP attorneys use all relevant laws to prevent the cruel capture, transport and display of these animals.
Unfortunately, agencies such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service often have industry’s best interest in mind, not the animals’ interests. The law here heavily favors those who wish to profit from displaying these animals to the public. Friends of Animals will not stop its efforts until substantial changes occur.
Freedom of Information Act
Lacking full access to what happens behind closed doors within agencies makes it difficult to mount a proper response or challenge to agency decisions. Friends of Animals regularly files FOIA requests with the federal government to obtain information about the activities and decisions that these agencies make. Unfortunately, agencies can often wait several months before responding to our requests. Some of our current FOIA requests involve information about wild horse roundups, meat industry grazing allotments in wild horse areas, wild horse adoptions and the ultimate outcome of live animals who are seized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at our international borders.