American Federation of Aviculture v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Thriving golden parakeets no longer need Endangered Species Act protection

Cases > Separation of Powers > American Federation of Aviculture v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Won: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a final rule to reclassify the golden conure as threatened, rather than endangered.
Case Court: District of Columbia District Court

Thanks to the efforts of private breeders, the golden conure is no longer threatened with extinction. Although the federal government acknowledged the bird’s significant increase in numbers, it had refused to comply with a law that requires it to make a final decision to delist or downlist the conure within 12 months of that finding. On behalf of a coalition of breeders and bird owners, the American Federation of Aviculture, PLF sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force it to comply with the law, reclassify the golden conure, and lift onerous restrictions that prevent breeders from selling to all other breeders.

In the 1970s, the federal government listed the golden conure, also known as the golden parakeet or Queen of Bavaria, as an endangered species. At the time, fewer than 2,500 birds were thought to exist. Since then, private breeders have significantly improved the plight of the golden conure, and they now number between 10,000 and 20,000. Because of the bird’s improved status, the American Federation of Aviculture, a nonprofit organization representing the interests of bird owners and breeders, filed a petition to delist or downlist the golden conure in August 2014.

AFA asked the federal government to remove counterproductive restrictions that make it hard for breeders to maintain a genetically diverse population by limiting the breeders to whom they may sell. When breeders are free to work with each other, they have better options for breeding larger, healthier flocks, further helping conservation efforts. Moreover, when the breeders can meet the public’s demand for golden conures, it reduces incentives for people to illegally capture wild birds.

In 2015, the government finally acknowledged that AFA had a point, which triggered a 12-month deadline for action. But no action came. Representing AFA, PLF notified the Fish and Wildlife Service that we would sue if the agency continued to fail to issue the required finding that the golden conure was no longer endangered. When the Service still did not act, PLF filed a lawsuit. In response to that lawsuit, the agency said it anticipated complying with the law and would issue a proposed finding, by the end of September 2018. This announcement that the government would take 41 months to do what the law requires it to do in 12 months was a direct affront to the rule of law. Yet, this was not the end of the saga. In September of 2018, as agreed, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposed finding to reclassify the golden conure. This triggered another deadline: to finalize their proposal within 12 months. Yet 18 months later, by March of 2020, nothing had been done. PLF therefore filed yet another lawsuit on behalf of AFA to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to act as required by the laws that govern its activities.

In April 2020, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service finally issued a final rule that reclassified the golden conure as a threatened species. This was a victory for the AFA and its members, whose right to breed and sell their birds without the encumbrance of counterproductive federal regulations has finally been vindicated.

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What’s at stake?

  • The law requires the government to make a decision on whether to remove the golden parakeet from the ESA endangered species list.
  • Delisting the bird would allow AFA’s breeders to continue to expand their conservation efforts. Moreover, it would free the government to focus on species that are actually in danger of extinction.

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