Victory Lap 2018

Victory Lap 2018

Victory Lap 2018


A change in federal policy that would allow the removal and killing of thousands of threatened Utah prairie dogs imperils the species to appease a relentless local drive for development, Friends of Animals (FoA) asserts in a lawsuit filed in August in federal court in Utah.

FoA’s lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) challenges the agency’s April 2018 decision to rollback previous habitat conservation plans and mitigation methods established to protect the prairie dogs, which were declared an endangered species in 1973 after their population dropped to a few thousand.

More than 7,000 prairie dogs could be removed or killed over a 10 year period under the new FWS plan, plus an additional 15,000 independent of development, totaling more than a quarter of the entire population. Between 350-1,750 acres of their habitat would be lost as well.

“Most every move federal wildlife managers in the Trump administration take derails protections for threatened wildlife such as prairie dogs,’’ said FoA President Priscilla Feral. “They neglect to see the moral and scientific value of seeing these social, intelligent animals as a benefit to western grassland ecosystems, or worthy of our affection and protection. We’re not about to give anyone a green light to drive these animals to extinction.”

 The new FWS plan fails to consider the impact that the killing or relocating will have on the connectivity of the prairie dog habitat and there is no indication there is even sufficient and suitable land to translocate the prairie dogs, FoA said in the complaint.

Even if moved, 90 percent of prairie dogs will not survive past their first year in the new location and twothirds of new sites fail completely. FWS’s new plan comes despite a federal appeals court victory in 2017 by Friends of Animals. In that decision, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals overruled a state district court decision that gave Utah the right to override ESA protections with its own management plan that threatened the survival of prairie dogs.

Now, catering to the interests of developers, FWS has devised a new plan that authorizes unlimited removal and killing of prairie dogs across the entire range of their habitat and allows developers to translocate the dogs only when deemed feasible. FWS’s new plan violates the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the agency to carefully consider a wide range of alternatives and to vigorously examine the environmental impacts of alternatives, FoA alleges in the lawsuit.

“Any progress that has been made to save Utah prairie dogs after decades of poisoning and other indiscriminate killing is lost with this plan, which contains no real measures to protect these intelligent and valuable animals,’’ said Jennifer Best, assistant legal director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “With this lawsuit, FoA will continue to fight to have science and the inherent value of animals considered by the federal government before it authorizes the plundering and killing of threatened and endangered species.”


Over the summer a federal court ordered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to take a hard look at the impacts associated with its 2016 emergency roundup of almost all of the horses—155—from Oregon’s Three Fingers Herd Management Area (HMA) after a brush fire in the northern portion. 

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon ruled that the BLM didn’t properly look at the environmental impacts associated with removing all of those horses and ordered the agency to go back and comply with the National Environmental Protection Act. Although the court cannot order BLM to put the horses back on federal public lands, the court can and did require BLM to analyze whether it may be able to return the horses after the HMA recovers.

The ruling follows a significant victory by Friends of Animals earlier this year regarding the BLM’s actions with this herd.

“While we will not be satisfied until the horses are returned to the Wild Horse Basin Pasture to roam free, this is still a significant victory for wild horses,” said Courtney McVean, an attorney for FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “The BLM is now required to analyze whether or not returning horses may have a significant environmental impact, and that’s important. As a result of the court’s order, the next step is to keep a close eye on BLM and make sure it fulfills its obligations. We want to be sure they do not do something nefarious like lower the appropriate management level or shrink the borders of the HMA.”

When FoA filed its 2016 lawsuit, we were well aware of the fact that the most widely-used method of avoiding laws meant to protect the environment and wildlife is through the use of so-called “emergency action.” Since the summer of 2016, BLM has engaged in numerous wild horse roundups by claiming some sort of imminent threat to horses.

While in some cases risks are present to the horses, BLM is merely using the situation as an excuse to permanently remove horses from the land without complying with the law.

“While it is certainly the right thing to do to protect horses during and immediately after a wild fire, using the fire as an excuse to zero out a population is inexcusable,” added Michael Harris, director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “We are happy that the court agreed that BLM cannot use its so-called emergency power to avoid looking at the long-term problem of leaving this area potentially horseless. The miniscule number of horses left on the HMA, approximately 61, are in danger of losing their genetic viability.”


In August, Friends of Animals (FoA) sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for failing to act on a petition it filed in January 2008 to have two populations of the scarlet macaw protected under the Endangered Species Act, noting that time is running out to protect them.

A 2010 lawsuit that FoA brought against FWS for failing to submit a 12-month finding on the scarlet macaw resulted in a settlement in 2012, where FWS acknowledged that the listing was warranted, but still has not enacted any protection for the birds. 

“We hope this lawsuit brings much needed protection for the scarlet macaw,” said Jennifer Best, assistant legal director for FoA’s Wildlife Law Program (WLP). “The Endangered Species Act mandates that the government finalize listing decisions within two years from receiving a petition, and we’ve been waiting over a decade now. We can’t wait any longer.”

Ongoing threats to the scarlet macaw are human development and deforestation, climate change and poachers who target them for the exotic pet trade. The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms poses an immediate threat to the continued existence of the scarlet macaw throughout its range in Central America and northern South America.

“The Endangered Species Act is an important tool that can provide stronger protections against illegal trade than are currently being provided by international law alone,” said Elizabeth Rasheed, an attorney for the WLP. “Illegal trade in endangered parrots—some are taken from the wild to be sold as pets and some for  their feathers—has had a devastating impact on many species throughout Latin America. This endangered population of scarlet macaws needs the full strength of regulatory protections that we are able to provide it.”

The two populations of brilliantly colored scarlet macaws that FoA’s lawsuit seeks to protect live in tropical humid rainforests ranging from northern Colombia through Central America. The northern subspecies, Ara macao cyanoptera, is larger with significantly longer wing lengths and does not have the green band separating the yellow and blue on its feathers on its wing coverts that the southern subspecies, Ara macao macao, has.


In October, Friends of Animals (FoA) filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Oregon challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to move forward with its Warm Springs’ mare sterilization experiment and 10-year management plan.

“What is so appalling about this is BLM already knows that ovariectomies performed on female wild horses can result in a high frequency of complications and even death. Plus they fundamentally alter their free-roaming natural behaviors and forces them into a zoo-like setting,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals.

The sterilization experiment— which is so egregious Colorado State University (CSU) withdrew from it in August—authorizes close to all of the approximately 800 wild horses in the Warm Springs Herd Management Area (HMA) to be ripped from their families and homes on federal public lands so BLM can research the effects of spaying wild horse mares and returning them to the range. Of those rounded up, 200 would be selected to return to the range.

The selected horses would be divided into two groups of 100 (a control group and a treatment group). Each group would consist of 50 males and 50 females, and about 60 percent of the mares in the treatment group would be spayed. Another 70 mares would be spayed and kept in captivity to “improve the quantification of the complication rate of the surgical procedure,” according to the BLM.

Without CSU, the sterilization experiment will no longer include a professor of equine surgery, an animal welfare specialist or a research scientist. Plus, the veterinarians performing the ovariectomies would be contracted by BLM rather than CSU. Finally, the pain and welfare observations that CSU planned to conduct will no longer take place.

“An important component of every research process is to engage in rigorous discussion and evaluation with our own experts as well as experts from outside of the university and listening to the concerns of the larger community as we bring these innovations forward,” said Dr. Alan Rudolph, vice president for Research at CSU, in an August statement obtained by FoA. “After careful consideration of multiple factors during the 30-day public comment period for the Warm Springs, Oregon, mare spay project, CSU is withdrawing our partnership on the surgical spaying of mares. The decision to withdraw was made with the support of our involved researchers.”

BLM’s 10-year-plan also authorizes multiple roundups, removals, ovariectomies and possible use of the fertility pesticide porcine zona pellucida (PZP) for the next 10 years or more.

“By conducting an unethical experiment on healthy wild horses in an area with plentiful forage for all species; by ignoring its obligations to manage wild horses at the minimal feasible level and by refusing to allow the Warm Springs wild horses to maintain their free-roaming behavior, BLM is in violation of law,” said Courtney McVean, an attorney for FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “This horrific decision cannot stand.” The BLM’s artificially low appropriate management level for the Warm Springs herd is a measly 111- 202 wild horses. However, 6,134 cattle are allowed to graze in the West Warm Springs and East Warm Springs grazing allotments, which are located in the Warm Springs HMA