Litigation is about more than protecting species, group says

poppy bee
Mojave poppy bee (credit Zach Portman, Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota
poppy bee
Mojave poppy bee (credit Zach Portman, Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota

Last week the Center for Biological Diversity scored a victory in their efforts to protect a rare buckwheat plant they believe would be harmed by a proposed open-pit mine.

The group sued the federal government under the Endangered Species Act, and successfully reached a temporary settlement with an Australian mining company and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) preventing new ground-disturbing activities for 35 days— enough time to give the court time to hear a motion for a preliminary injunction. 

In it’s 30 year history, the Center has gained protections for everything from the Lane Mountain milkvetch, a small plant the grows only in the West Mojave desert, to beluga whales in Alaska’s Cook Inlet through targeted litigation.

“Some say our litigation is frivolous but we’ve won most of our cases,” said Patrick Donnelly, the Nevada state director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Those cases have forced the federal government to list 762 species under the Endangered Species Act and protect more than 725 million acres of habitat from Alaska to Florida.

With about 70 attorneys, one hundred and eighty staff members and 1,275 lawsuits, Donnelly said the Center is known for its litigation tactics.

In Nevada, the Center has ramped up in the past few months and sued for the protection of the Mt. Charleston blue butterfly and its environment. They’ve also filed Endangered Species Act petitions for a rare flower only found in parts of Clark County, and the native Mojave bee.

About a month ago, the Center and their allies won a significant victory in federal court against the current administration’s move to strip protections from the greater sage-grouse, which Donnelly said was an attempt by the administration “to run the BLM like a all-you-can-eat-buffet for the oil industry.”

On the state level, the Nevada Division of Forestry (NDF) is initiating a status review of Tiehm’s buckwheat for potential addition to the state’s equivalent of the endangered species list in response to the Center’s petition

The group’s main tool, said Donnelly, is the Endangered Species Act, which polls have shown has wide bipartisan support.

Donnelly said there are two facets to the group’s litigation tactics. One is to use all legal avenues available to protect biodiversity for the health and balance of entire ecosystems. The other is to change public consciousness and shift narratives that place protection of special interests over protection of the environment.

Much of the group’s work in Southern Nevada has targeted the Clark County public lands bill, which they believe will result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat and contribute to the climate crisis by promoting sprawl into areas far away from central Las Vegas.

“Ultimately in some ways, we are playing whack a mole,” said Donnelly about protecting threatened species from habitat destruction. “We have to shift the consciousness of the public.”

“There is an evolving consciousness about the importance of the environment,” Donnelly said. “In some ways, litigation is a tool that will help us move that conversation forward.”

“There’s been an unbelievable shift in the conversation around climate change,” Donnelly said. “It’s not just environmentalists, you know. You see your average person caring about the environment.”

Jeniffer Solis
Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.