July 20, 2017

PLF sues to end counterproductive golden parakeet regulations

By Christina M. Martin Attorney

Today, PLF filed a lawsuit in federal court to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to obey the law and issue a decision on the American Federation of Aviculture’s petition to remove the golden parakeet from the list of protected species under the Endangered Species Act.

The federal government listed the golden parakeet, also known as the golden conure or Queen of Bavaria, as endangered in the 1970s. At one time, experts estimated its population at 1,000-2,500. Today, experts estimate 10,000-20,000 golden parakeets. As a result, the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species reclassified the bird from endangered to “vulnerable.” Another reason for the improved status is that the golden parakeet faces a smaller threat of being trapped in its native Brazil habitat, because breeders of captive populations have depressed incentives for smugglers by providing legal, and more affordable options for collectors. In other words, private breeders are helping conserve the bird.

Because of the bird’s improved status, the American Federation of Aviculture (AFA), a nonprofit that educates the public and represents the interests of bird owners and breeders, filed the petition to delist the golden parakeet in August 2014. AFA also asked that if the federal government does not delist the bird, that it reclassify it from endangered to threatened and remove counterproductive restrictions that make it hard for US breeders to maintain a genetically diverse population. Current regulations put a burden on breeders to get a permit and limit which breeders to whom they may sell. If breeders were exempted, they would have better options for breeding larger, healthy flocks, further helping conservation efforts.

Breeder and AFA member Nancy Speed would breed more golden conures, if not for ESA regulations.

On April 10, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a tardy acknowledgement that delisting or downlisting and removing these counterproductive regulations might be warranted. That decision triggered a 12-month deadline, which has long since passed.

Frustrated by the federal agency’s stalling, AFA asked PLF for help. In April, we sent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior a warning that we would sue if the government failed to issue the required finding. But instead of reaching the decision required by the law, the agency responded by saying that it considers review of the golden parakeet a “priority” and that it anticipated completing that review by the end of September 2018. In other words, the federal government wants a total of 41 months to do something that the law requires it do in 12 months.

While we understand that the federal government has limited resources and many species to review, delisting the golden parakeet should be done promptly and in accordance with the law. Delisting the bird would allow AFA’s breeders to continue and 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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American Federation of Aviculture v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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

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