Legal Action Aims to Protect Imperiled Coastal California Gnatcatcher

WASHINGTON — Conservation groups took to the courts again today to protect the threatened coastal California gnatcatcher – a tiny, gray bird that lives in the rapidly declining sage brush habitat in Southern California.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, National Audubon Society, Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Habitats League and Laguna Greenbelt intervened to defend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s August 2016 determination that the coastal California gnatcatcher warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. Industry groups have challenged that determination in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The gnatcatcher is a frequent target of property rights groups like the Pacific Legal Foundation and the National Association for Homebuilders, which have been trying to discredit the scientific classification of the bird since NRDC and other groups petitioned to have it protected under the Endangered Species Act more than 20 years ago.

“The science is clear: the coastal California gnatcatcher deserves Endangered Species Act protections,” said Sylvia Fallon, director of NRDC’s Wildlife Conservation Project. “This tiny bird occupies the last of the remaining coastal sage scrub habitat which is home not just to the gnatcatcher, but to many different species.  It’s essential that we protect this rare ecosystem.”

“The government’s review process worked perfectly in the case of the gnatcatcher, revealing the litigant’s deeply flawed, self-serving study for what it is,” said Michael Lynes, public policy director for Audubon California. “If these developers are successful in undermining the government’s scientific review process, then they will have successfully undermined the Endangered Species Act itself”

“The Pacific Legal Foundation’s bogus claims about the coastal California gnatcatcher have been repeatedly rejected by experts with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Ryan Shannon, endangered species staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Foundation is again trying to use junk science to fuel its extreme anti-wildlife agenda. But this little bird is clearly unique and desperately needs continued protection.”

“The gnatcatcher listing has been fully vetted by two scientific panels and remains a cornerstone for conservation programs in Southern California,” said Dan Silver, executive director of the Endangered Habitats League. “Our preserve systems already balance the environment with development, and the building industry should be working to make these a success instead of tearing them down through litigation.”

“The Coastal California Gnatcatcher is an indicator species for the hundred-plus other species that constitute and depend on the coastal scrub ecosystem," said Elisabeth Brown, president of Laguna Greenbelt. “The attack on the gnatcatcher listing is a thinly veiled attack on the value of the entire ecosystem and the habitat reserves that were created as mitigation for the widespread replacement of scrub communities with urban sprawl development.”



About Audubon California
Audubon California is building a better future for California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. With more than 550,000 members and supporters in California and an affiliated 48 local Audubon chapters, Audubon California is a field program of the National Audubon Society.

About the Center for Biological Diversity
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

About Endangered Habitats League
Founded in 1991, Endangered Habitats League is a Southern California conservation group. It is dedicated to ecosystem protection and sustainable land use for all the region’s inhabitants.

About Laguna Greenbelt
Laguna Greenbelt, Inc., is a non-profit based in Laguna Beach. For 50 years we have been successfully advocating for conservation of habitat lands in Orange County.

About the Natural Resources Defense Council
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.






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