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Earthrise Secures Important Victory for the Critically Imperiled California Condor

March 17, 2016

  • Condor and chick

In January, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that our lawsuit could move forward challenging the use of lead hunting ammunition in Arizona’s Kaibab National Forest. The California condor is the largest soaring bird in North America; only 73 of these amazing creatures remain free flying in the Southwest population. Scientists agree that the greatest threat to condors is lead poisoning from ingesting spent lead ammunition. In order to address this problem we filed—on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and Grand Canyon Wildlands Council—a complaint against the Forest Service alleging a claim of endangerment under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Our legal theory is simple: the Forest Service, by allowing the disposal of spent lead ammunition to occur on the Kaibab National Forest in northern Arizona, is contributing to an imminent and substantial endangerment to the environment by putting wildlife, and in particular California condors, at risk of lead poisoning.

In December 2012, the Forest Service filed a motion to dismiss, which the district court granted in 2013, finding that the plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to bring suit. We appealed the district court’s standing ruling. The appellate process moved very slowly, but in November 2015, Earthrise Senior Staff Attorney Allison LaPlante argued our case in front of the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. Although the court was tough on some issues, Allison persuaded the three-judge panel and secured an opinion from the Ninth Circuit ruling in our favor and concluding our clients have standing. The case will now go back down to the district court, and we expect the government to renew its motion to dismiss on other grounds.

However, thanks to Earthrise students Laura Kerr, Joanna Lau, Gabe Hinman, fellow Ryan Shannon, staff attorneys Kevin Cassidy and Lia Comerford, and Allison’s efforts in front of the Ninth Circuit, we are one step closer to halting the endangerment in the Kaibab National Forest, and one step closer to ensuring the successful return of the California condor.

“The Ninth Circuit decision allows this important case of first impression to move forward,” said Allison LaPlante. “The law is clear: The Kaibab can, and must, take action to protect endangered California Condors from toxic lead ammunition.”

Click here to watch the video of Allison LaPlante’s successful oral argument in the 9th Circuit.

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