Thursday, June 27, 2013

D.C. Circuit Upholds Ban On Polar Bear “Trophy” Imports

In two recent rulings, the D.C. Circuit upheld the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) determination that polar bear “trophies” – i.e., the body parts of polar bears killed in Canada – may no longer be imported into the United States now that the species has been listed under the Endangered Species Act.  In a suit by Safari Club, the Court rejected the argument that a provision of the Marine Mammal Protection Act that had authorized these imports prior to the species’ listing somehow trumps the Act’s protections for listed species such as the polar bear.  In another suit by Conservation Force, the Court issued an unpublished decision affirming the district court’s ruling that killing and importing polar bears does not enhance the survival of the species, as the plaintiffs had argued.  We intervened in these suits on behalf of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Humane Society of the United States, in order to defend the FWS’s determinations.  The Court’s rulings are here and here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

MGC Is Instrumental In Convincing Fish and Wildlife Service To Propose Upgrading Captive Chimpanzees To “Endangered” Under The Endangered Species Act

In what could be the culmination of a long effort by our firm to help eliminate the dual listing for chimpanzees under the Endangered Species Act, by which chimpanzees in the wild are considered “endangered,” but chimpanzees in captivity receive no protections under the statute, today the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposed rule to upgrade the listing of captive chimpanzees to “endangered” as well.  The announcement came in response to a petition filed by the firm on behalf of a coalition of animal protection and conservation groups (HSUS and Humane Society International, the National Anti-Vivisection Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance), the Jane Goodall Institute, and the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums.   The firm has been working on this issue since the mid-1990s.  The FWS has finally recognized that there is no legal basis under the ESA for distinguishing between the captive members of a species and the wild members – if finalized, the new rule will mean that anyone wishing to “take” a chimpanzee in this country – including kill, harm, harass, wound, or injure in  any way – will have to apply for a special permit to do so under the ESA and demonstrate that such activities are needed to “enhance the propagation or survival” of the species in the wild.  For years, because of the dual listing scheme – which denied captive chimpanzees the basic protections of the ESA – chimpanzees have been widely exploited in commercials, the entertainment industry and the biomedical research industry.  Finalizing the proposed rule should help put an end to such practices.   The proposed rule can be found here

Monday, June 3, 2013

End to Destruction of Eagles Nests At Norfolk Botanical Garden Urged

On behalf of Eagle on Alliance (EOA) – a grass-roots group in Virginia – the firm today sent a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) requesting it to stop allowing the City of Norfolk to destroy the nests of eagles that have lived at the Garden since 2003 and that millions of people have delighted in following over “Eagle Cam” until the site was shut down when nest destruction began last fall.   The FWS decided to authorize the destruction of the nests from October, 2012 – March, 2013 in an effort to make the eagles leave the area which is adjacent to the Norfolk International Airport, and since then the City (with the assistance of the USDA “Wildlife Services” division) has destroyed seven different nests, each time waiting until the nest is almost completed before tearing it down – all at taxpayer expense.  Although under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act the FWS is only authorized to allow the destruction of eagles nests when “necessary” to protect public safety, internal minutes of a meeting held by the FWS, the Airport, and the City of Norfolk before the FWS issued the permit reveal that the consensus of the agency biologists was that it was “unlikely” that removal of these nests “would be successful in preventing future nesting in close proximity to the airport,” and that, consequently “removal of the nest will not address the concern of aviation and eagle hazards.”   In addition, although the agency’s implementing regulations require the FWS to also determine that “there is no practicable alternative to nest removal that would protect the interest to be served,” the Airport has yet to implement several obvious measures that to reduce the risk of “bird strikes” there.  For example, although other Airports immediately adjacent to wildlife areas – such as JFK and the Philadelphia Airport – employ full-time wildlife biologists to detect and disperse birds from the runways, and to alert airmen when birds are present, internal documents recently obtained by EOA under the open records laws show that the Norfolk Airport borrows a federal employee for this purpose for only 60 hours each month, despite the fact that, according to its own financial records, the Airport has over $150,000,000 in “total net assets,” and recently announced that it is spending $11 million to renovate the lobby, including “the installation of  a large skylight in the lobby area [and] the installation of a new terrazzo flooring.”   Asserting that the FWS simply cannot meet the necessary requirements for authorizing the destruction of the eagles’ nests, EOA has asked the agency to terminate the exiting permit and to refrain from issuing any additional permits to the City for next year.