Lawsuit to Protect the Endangered Species Act

The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit to force the federal government to repeal recently imposed rules under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The lawsuit specifically details the importance of ESA protections for animals in captivity.


July 5, 2022

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In October 2019, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit to force the federal government to leave the Endangered Species Act (ESA)’s legal protections intact.

This lawsuit relates to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) new rules, announced in August 2019, that weaken one of our nation’s most important animal protection laws. The ESA has prevented the extinction of numerous iconic American animals including the northern gray wolf, the bald eagle, the Florida manatee, and the grizzly bear.

This law also provides critical protections for threatened and endangered animals languishing in captivity across the United States. The Animal Legal Defense Fund set a critical legal precedent applying the ESA to captive endangered animals in 2016 — affirmed on appeal in 2018 — regarding the treatment of four tigers and three lemurs held at a roadside zoo in Iowa.

In August, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced the new rules that weaken the ESA. The changes include:

  • Making it easier to “delist” species, meaning they no longer receive ESA protections.
  • No immediate protections for newly-listed “threatened” species – those that are threatened with extinction. Captive threatened animals are especially susceptible to mistreatment. The ESA clearly requires the government to protect threatened species.
  • Economic factors, instead of scientific analysis, can now be considered when deciding whether a species merits protection.
  • It’s harder to protect animals from the growing climate crisis because, among other changes, the new rules make it more difficult to designate an area as “critical habitat” – the areas considered crucial to protect a threatened or endangered species. Habitat loss, fueled by human development and the climate crisis, is the primary cause of extinction.

Who is being sued, why, and under what law?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

Why this case is important:
The ESA is one of the most important legal tools used to protect the lives of animals. The Animal Legal Defense Fund and other advocates rely on the ESA to defend animals in many ways — from contesting the construction of a border wall that could push dozens of animals to extinction, to advocating on behalf of endangered animals who are bred just to be killed in canned hunts, and securing the transfer of listed animals from roadside zoos to reputable sanctuaries.

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