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Our Cases

Earthjustice attorneys represent public-interest clients concerned about threats to the environment and hold accountable those who jeopardize the health of our planet. Thanks to the generosity of our many supporters, we provide expert legal support free of charge to groups large and small. Several of the most important legal battles for this year can be found at the 2014 Legal Docket.

Our complete legal docket includes about 300 active cases. Learn about some of our recent and historical cases:

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 (“MIS”) 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 78-85°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.

Protecting Southern California's National Forests

This case challenged the Forest Service's legally flawed process for approving revisions to forest plans for four southern California national forests (Cleveland, Angeles, San Bernardino, and Los Padres) as violating the National Environmental Policy Act. Totaling approximately 3.5 million acres, the southern California forests extend from Big Sur in the north to the Mexican border, are an internationally recognized important region for biodiversity, and serve as immensely popular recreational destinations for millions of Californians. The revised plans were sharply skewed towards allowing more environmentally damaging activities on the forests, in particular recreation such as off-road vehicle use, while at the same time the plans failed to set aside and protect sensitive areas and species' habitat. The plans also opened up vast roadless areas to future development and activities that would prevent the areas from being designated wilderness in the future. 

In September 2009, a federal district judge ruled that the plan did not adequately protect those forests' wildest landscapes.

Earthjustice represented conservationists.

Roadless Rule Defense: Affirmed At Court of Appeals, Enjoined in Another Circuit The Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which protects 58.5 million acres of national forest land, was repealed by the Bush adminstration and replaced by a state-by-state petition process. In September 2006, Judge Elizabeth Laporte in San Francisco declared the petitions rule illegal and reinstated the Roadless Rule nationwide, except for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Two years later, Judge Brimmer reissued his moratorium declaring the Roadless Rule illegal throughout the country. But the following year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed protection for over 40 million acres of wild national forests and grasslands from new road building, logging, and development. On October 21, 2011, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Wyoming district court, upholding the Roadless Rule and vacating the prior injunction.
Setting Sewage, Fertilizer, and Animal Waste Limits The Clean Water Act puts pollution limits on lakes and streams to protect their uses for drinking water, recreation, and fish and wildlife habitat. Earthjustice has sought to force the Environmental Protection Agency to create effective water quality standards.
Roan Plateau: Challenge to Oil & Gas Leasing Plan

The Roan Plateau, just west of Rifle, Colorado, provides an island of near-unrivaled biodiversity in western Colorado. The Roan contains essential habitat for genetically pure populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout; supports Colorado's greatest herds of elk and mule deer; and hosts a number of rare and sensitive plants. BLM itself acknowledges that the Roan also contains at least 19,000 acres of wilderness-quality lands. The area is extremely popular with sportsmen for backcountry angling, hunting and other recreation.    

The BLM, however, plans to lease the Roan for oil and gas development, and to allow drilling more than 3,600 wells on the Upper Plateau. BLM admits that the backcountry and wilderness values for which the Roan is known would be seriously compromised by such intensive development. BLM's leasing plan also disregards widespread opposition from the towns and counties in the area, as well as from Colorado's governor and congressional delegation -- all of whom sought to additional protections for the Roan.  

Earthjustice represents a coalition of groups in challenging the BLM leasing plan.     

Coalbed Methane Gas & Coal Mining Development in Flathead River Basin

The Flathead River flows from British Columbia south into Montana and forms the western boundary of Glacier National Park. Coalbed methane gas extraction and open-pit coal mining in the Canadian headwaters of the Flathead River threaten to fragment the Flathead's abundant habitat for grizzly bears, wolves, and wolverines, and to pollute the river's pristine waters.

Earthjustice submitted petitions to the appropriate international agencies to seek to protect this special river and its surrounding habitat, and in 2010, British Columbia, in partnership with the state of Montana, has agreed to ban mining, oil and gas development, and coalbed gas extraction in the valley.

 

Protecting Healthy Elk & Bison in Wyoming

Each winter, the federal government feeds approximately 8,000 elk and 900 bison, or buffalo, on the 24,700-acre Jackson Hole National Elk Refuge in northwest Wyoming. This winter feeding program began in 1910 after growing human development in the Jackson Hole region intruded on winter ranges for native wildlife, and has continued ever since. Now, however, it has become apparent that crowding of elk and bison on winter feed lines -- like crowding of children in a kindergarten class room -- exposes the animals to a high danger of disease transmission. Already the fed elk and bison are widely afflicted with brucellosis, a disease that causes female animals to abort their calves. Even worse, crowding on the refuge feed lines exposes the elk to a high risk of contracting chronic wasting disease, the elk equivalent of "mad cow" disease, which is always fatal and which has steadily been moving northwest in Wyoming toward the Jackson Hole area over the past several years.

Despite these wildlife disease threats, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided in 2007 to continue winter feeding of elk and bison for the foreseeable future, rather than to embark on a new plan that would seek to return these animals to their native winter range. In making this decision, the agency deferred to the wishes of local hunting outfitters, who want high elk numbers for their clients, and local ranchers, who wish to keep the elk away from forage that is now used to graze cattle. But the law governing the National Wildlife Refuge System requires the Service to maintain "healthy populations" of wildlife for the benefit of present and future generations of all Americans, not to maintain feedgrounds that perpetuate wildlife disease for the benefit of a few local interests.  Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in June 2008 to enforce this law. 

National Smog Standards Earthjustice is fighting for stronger limits on ozone or smog -- pollution linked to premature deaths, thousands of emergency room visits, and tens of thousands of asthma attacks each year. Ozone is especialy dangerous to small children and senior citizens, who are often warned to stay indoors on polluted days. Smog pollution can also severely damage forests and plants, stunting their growth and increasing the risk of die-off from disease. Unfortunately, smog standards recently adopted by the U.S. EPA are far weaker than recommended unanimously by the agency's own science advisors, leaving public health and the environment at great risk. Earthjustice is challenging these standards on behalf of public health and conservation groups.
Strengthening Protections for Our Nation's Forests

In 2007, Earthjustice won its challenge to the Bush administration's 2005 revision of the National Forest Management Act planning regulations, which govern management of the 193-million-acre National Forest System. In response to our win, the Forest Service issued revised regulations. Unfortunately, the revised regulations are virtually the same as the regulations that the court invalidated, and the process by which they were adopted suffers from the same legal infirmities as the 2005 revision. Once again the regulations run counter to the National Forest Management Act, which was passed in 1976 in reaction to rampant overharvesting of commercial timber from the national forests, especially through clearcutting. The Act was expressly intended to reduce the Forest Service's discretion in managing the national forests, placing limits on timber harvesting and promoting the protection of other resources, including wildlife and native plants, watersheds, and recreation, while the revised regulations eliminate precisely those limits and protections.

This suit will challenge the revised regulations.

Rock Creek Mine: Threat to Wildlife

The proposed Rock Creek Mine project in northwest Montana would be located adjacent to and literally under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area in the Kootenai National Forest. The copper and silver mine's location is in a sensitive portion of grizzly bear habitat, and construction will add sediment to local waters, which would smother bull trout spawning areas.

Since 2001, the Fish & Wildlife Service has issued flawed biological opinions repeatedly, and Earthjustice has repeatedly -- and successfully -- challenged the approval for the mine.

In December 2007, the Fish & Wildlife Service once again gave the mining company approval to begin construction activities, based on a biological opinion that relies on mitigation measures that are not sufficient to protect the populations of grizzly bear. This biological opinion also permits extensive degradation of a portion of Rock Creek previously deemed critical habitat for bull trout.

To allow mining and other mineral development under federally designated wilderness would set a dangerous precedent. Earthjustice is challenging this renewed approval for the mine.