|Protecting Grand Canyon-Parashant and Vermilion Cliffs National Monuments from Off-Road Vehicles||
President Clinton created the Grand Canyon-Parashant and Vermilion Cliffs National Monuments in 2000 to protect their spectacular landscapes, unparalleled geological formations, artifacts from more than 10,000 years of human history, wildlife, and the solitude and remoteness essential to the character of these lands. To protect these valuable resources just north of the Grand Canyon, the Presidential Proclamations specifically prohibited the use of motorized vehicles off of any roads.
Instead of extending the National Monuments the especially protective management to which they are legally entitled, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) adopted resource management plans (RMPs) that treat the monuments as if they are indistinguishable from general multiple-use BLM lands. This is perhaps most evident in BLM's designation of a spider web of thousands of miles of trails and routes for motorized vehicles that BLM admits will damage the objects to be protected by the proclamations.
In addition to failing to comply with the Monument Proclamations, BLM also relied on a settlement agreement between the Department of the Interior and State of Utah to unlawfully disavow its statutory authority to fully consider the protection of wilderness-quality lands in the monuments. As a result, the solitude, remoteness, and wildlife habitat so important to these lands may be degraded or destroyed by motor vehicle use and other activities permitted by BLM.
Earthjustice represents a coalition of five environmental groups challenging the monuments' RMPs.
|Critical Habitat for the Palila||The palila -- a bird endemic to Hawai'i -- depends on the native Hawaiian dry land forest, particularly mamane trees, for food, shelter, and breeding, and the destruction of mamane forests by sheep and goats and other browsing animals in the early twentieth century prompted a sharp decline in palila numbers and habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reacted by recognizing palila as endangered in 1967 and designating Palila critical habitat on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea.|
|Orion North Timber Sale||
The Orion North timber sale would have clearcut the heart of the last major roadless watershed in Thorne Arm, on Revillagigedo Island near Ketchikan in the Tongass National Forest. The watershed provides important old-growth habitat connecting Misty Fjords National Monument with the valuable coastal habitat along Thorne Arm.
|Gulf Longlines & Sea Turtles||
Earthjustice has filed suit to protect sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. These turtles are a key part of the ecosystem in the Gulf, where they forage and live throughout the year. They also are a valuable legacy for Gulf residents who take pride in observing and enjoying the sea turtles' continued choice of their local beaches to nest. But they are being captured and killed in large numbers by fishing vessels that deploy miles of line and thousands of hooks along the ocean floor. The turtles drown or suffer serious injury when they grab the bait off these hooks.
Populations of these sea turtles are vulnerable; one turtle species in particular—the loggerhead—has suffered more than a 40% decline in its population over the past decade. Therefore, the Endangered Species Act requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to strictly limit the number of turtles that can be caught and harmed by these fishing vessels. But the Service has known for several years that these turtles are being caught by the hundreds, at levels that greatly exceed the allowed limit. The situation is so dire that in January 2009 the local fishery management council asked the Service to close the fishery altogether. Even though the scientific data are clear, and despite the fact that the Service has both the authority and duty to prevent further death and injury to sea turtles, the Service still has failed to act.
In its lawsuit, Earthjustice is asking the federal court in Florida to order the Service to close the fishery until the Service gathers the information needed to assess how best to protect the turtles and avoid further decimating their populations.
|Challenging Smoky Canyon Mine Expansion Permit||This case challenges a permit allowing expansion of the Smoky Canyon phosphate mine into roadless areas of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in southeast Idaho. The mine is already listed as a federal Superfund site due to toxic pollution of area waters from past mining activity. Expanding the mine will likely create additional pollution in southeast Idaho springs and streams.|
|False Killer Whale Longline Defense||For years, the National Marine Fisheries Service has illegally ignored its own data, which show the Hawai'i-based longline fleet currently is injuring and killing false killer whales at over twice the level the population can sustain. In 2004, under pressure from an Earthjustice lawsuit, the National Marine Fisheries Service finally re-classified the Hawai'i-based longline fishery as "Category I" -- a designation for fisheries that annually kill and seriously harm marine mammals at unstainable rates -- due to its excessive incidental take of Hawai'i's false killer whales. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, this recategorization should have triggered the prompt establishment of a take reduction team to devise a plan to bring the fishery's incidental take "to insignificant levels approaching a zero mortality and serious injury rate." NMFS has failed to do so, claiming inadequate funding. At the same time, NMFS has never applied the congressionally-mandated factors to allocate resources where insufficient funding is available for all required take reduction actions.|
|Idaho Roadless Rule||
Late in the Bush administration, the U.S. Forest Service issued the Idaho Roadless Rule, a regulation establishing special rules to govern management of undeveloped roadless areas in Idaho's National Forests. Idaho has the most roadless public forest lands of any state in the lower-48 United States, with more than nine million acres. These pristine lands belong to all Americans. They provide outstanding opportunities for hunting, fishing and hiking, as well as essential habitat for rare wildlife species such as grizzly bears, gray wolves, caribou, and wolverines. However, while the 2001 Roadless Rule protected these lands, the Bush administration's Idaho Roadless Rule creates new loopholes that open the door for road construction and logging across 5.3 million acres of roadless areas -- an area more than twice the size of Yellowstone National Park -- and leaves more than 400,000 acres of roadless areas entirely unprotected.
Representing a coalition of national and regional conservation groups, Earthjustice challenged the Idaho Roadless Rule in federal district court in January 2009. This lawsuit takes aim at the rule's impacts on endangered and threatened species and its authorization for new development activities in previously protected roadless areas. Earthjustice will ask the court to invalidate the Idaho Roadless Rule and restore the 2001 Roadless Rule's protections for Idaho's irreplaceable wild forests.
|Subsidizing Oil Shale Industrial Development in the West||
Earthjustice, on behalf of 13 conservation groups, filed two lawsuits in federal court in Colorado on January 16, 2009, challenging last-minute efforts by the Bush administration to subsidize oil shale industrial development across wildlands in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah.
The first suit challenges the Bush administration's decision to give the green light to oil shale leasing across two million acres of public lands. The suit challenges the Bureau of Land Management's decision to cut the public out of the decisionmaking process by failure to permit the public to challenge the action in an administrative "protest" before finalizing the decision. Conservation groups also charge that the BLM failed to even consider protecting wildlands and habitat for the imperiled sage grouse while permitting some leasing to go ahead.
The second suit challenges the Bush administration's decision to issue new rules for managing oil shale. These rules provide huge subsidies to those hoping to start a domestic oil shale industry by cutting the rate US taxpayers will get from the sale of oil shale to less than 1/2 what it is for conventional oil and gas. The groups charge this violates the law's requirement that taxpayers get a fair return for the shale removed from America's public lands. The groups also challenge the agency's failure to divulge the environmental impact of subsidizing the industry.
|Western Oregon Plan Revision||Precipitated by litigation in the 1980s-1990s, the Northwest Forest Plan has governed federal public forests in Washington, Oregon, and northern California since its adoption in 1994, but its protections were under attack throughout the Bush administration. The last shoe to drop in the attempt to dismantle the Northwest Forest Plan was its wholesale revision with respect to 2.6 million acres of Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") lands in Oregon. The Western Oregon Plan Revisions, known by the acronym WOPR, will quadruple old-growth forest logging and eliminate or substantially shrink all wildlife reserves, including the streamside buffers and key watersheds that are integral parts of the Northwest Forest Plan's salmon and clean water protections. While WOPR covers Oregon, its impact is region-wide, as it marks the end of the ecosystem-wide strategy that has protected northwest rivers, salmon and steelhead, northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets, and other old-growth dependent species.|
|Snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park||
For eight years, the Bush administration has worked to reverse the National Park Service's 2001 decision to eliminate recreational snowmobiling -- and its adverse air, noise, and wildlife impacts -- from Yellowstone, the nation's first national park. In 2003, Earthjustice attorneys succeeded in overturning in court the Bush administration's first Yellowstone snowmobile plan, under which 950 snowmobiles would have been allowed into the park each winter day. In 2007, the Bush administration finalized a second plan authorizing 540 snowmobiles in Yellowstone each winter day -- twice the number of recent winter seasons, during which the Park Service's own noise and air quality thresholds were violated by snowmobiles. The Bush administration's plan to double the number of snowmobiles within Yellowstone contradicted the recommendation of Park Service's own biologists, who had concluded that lower vehicle numbers were necessary to protect the park's winter-stressed wildlife.
On September 15, 2008, a federal court in Washington, D.C., rejected the Bush administration's 540-snowmobile plan in a second Earthjustice lawsuit, reaffirming that "the fundamental purpose of the national park system is to conserve park resources and values." In the words of the court, the administration's decision to allow a doubling of snowmobile use within Yellowstone "clearly elevate[d] use over conservation of park resources and values" contrary to Park Service mandates. The court set aside the Bush administration's plan and directed the Park Service to develop a new regulation protective of Yellowstone National Park.
The Bush administration refused. Citing a November 2008 Wyoming court decision that left the Park Service with the authority to develop a new winter use plan, in December 2008 the Bush administration published a regulation that will allow 720 snowmobiles into the park each winter day -- 180 more than the plan invalidated only three months before by the Washington, D.C., court. Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of five conservation groups challenging the Bush administration's eleventh-hour effort to perpetuate recreational snowmobiling within Yellowstone National Park.
|Graham's Penstemon: Wildflower on the Brink||
The Graham's penstemon is a beautiful wildflower that lives exclusively on oil shale in the Unita Basin of northeastern Utah and northwestern Colorado. The penstemon is uniquely adapted to live in this harsh, dry climate. Future development of oil and gas and oil shale threatens the very existence of this flower.
In 2006, the Fish & Wildlife Service proposed that the Graham's penstemon be inclused on the endangered species list. But in 2007, the FWS reversed its decision, despite scientific evidence that this wildflower is threatened.
Earthjustice is suing on behalf of conservationists.
|Protecting the Endangered Species Act from Last-Minute Rule Changes||
In a last-ditch attempt to weaken the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service have enacted a rule that drastically reduces one of the core protections of the Act.
The Endangered Species Act requires all federal agencies to consult with expert federal wildlife agencies to ensure that their actions will not harm endangered species and, when necessary, to develop project alternatives that will mitigate any possible harm to endangered species. Consultation has been the Act's most effective and successful safeguard by, for example, keeping factory trawlers out of Steller sea lion rookeries, establishing minimum flows for salmon in the Klamath River, and reforming management of the Northwest forests to protect the northern spotted owl and other old-growth dependent species.
The new rule eliminates the consultation requirement in a wide range of circumstances and will reduce protections for imperiled species. The new rule was enacted on December 16, 2008, and is scheduled to take effect on January 15, 2009, in the final days of the Bush administration's term in office. Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit challenging the new rule in a federal district court in California. Earthjustice is asking the court to find the rule unlawful and set it aside to restore the critical protections endangered species need to survive.
|Protecting Wolverines in the Lower-48||
The wolverine, the largest terrestrial member of the weasel family, is among the rarest mammals in the lower-48 states and faces severe threats from habitat fragmentation and disturbance, trapping, and global warming. Nevertheless, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March 2008 rejected a petition to protect the wolverine under the Endangered Species Act. In so doing, the FWS cited the presence of wolverines in Canada and Alaska as a justification for refusing to protect the last remaining wolverines in the lower-48 states. This approach by FWS represented a stark departure from past Endangered Species Act listings of such species as the grizzly bear, the wolf, and the bald eagle in the lower-48 states despite the persistence of these species in Canada and Alaska.
Earthjustice, representing nine conservation groups, sued FWS in September 2008 to ensure that the wolverine is protected in the lower-48 states as Congress intended.
|Monitoring the Health of the Sierra Nevada||
The 1982 National Forest Management Act regulations require the Forest Service to identify and monitor the populations of various management indicator species (â€œMISâ€) in the national forests. These particular species serve as a bellwether for other species with the same special habitat needs or population characteristics, so monitoring MIS is a way of monitoring the health of forest wildlife and habitat more generally.
On December 14, 2007, the Forest Service amended the forest plans for all ten national forests in the Sierra Nevada. The amendment reduces significantly the number of MIS that will be monitored, increasing the risk that logging and other destructive activities will be carried out that will harm wildlife and habitat in the Sierra.
This suit challenges this amendment to the Sierra Nevada forest plans.
|Protecting the Pikas||
The American pika is a small mammal related to rabbits and hares that lives in alpine areas throughout western North America. Pikas are extremely sensitive to high temperatures, and they will die under brief exposure to temperatures above 78-85Â°F. Because pikas are so vulnerable to high temperatures, scientists regard them as early sentinels of global warming. In fact, many pika populations have already disappeared because of global warming, including at least one group near Yosemite National Park.
Unless significant action is taken to curtail global warming, the pika could become extinct in California by the end of this century. Because of this, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to list the American pika as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act. The Center also petitioned the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list the pika as a threatened or endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The Fish and Game Commission denied the petition, claiming that the Center did not present enough evidence that global warming had contributed to the pika's decline, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service advised the Center that they do not intend to respond to the pika petition within 12 months as required by law. In February 2009, the USFWS agreed to assess whether the pika may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, but in February 2010, the USFWS denied ESA protections to the American pika.
In October 2009, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the California Fish and Game Commission.