Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 10, 2022


Kristine Akland, (405) 544-9863,

Lawsuit Launched to Secure Endangered Status for Secretive Eastern Black Rail

Marsh Bird Expected to Be Extinct Within Next 48 Years

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity and Healthy Gulf filed a formal notice today of their intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over a Trump administration decision that the eastern black rail should have threatened rather than endangered status under the Endangered Species Act. The Service predicts that the critically imperiled marsh bird will likely be extinct by 2068.

“Without strong federal action, eastern black rails could be gone within our lifetime because of human-caused habitat destruction,” said Kristine Akland, a staff attorney at the Center. “If the Service doesn’t think this dire scenario qualifies a species as endangered, then I don’t know what would. To save these remarkable, elusive birds, we have to protect them and the wetlands where they live.”

The Center and Healthy Gulf sued the Service in March 2020 for its long delay in finalizing Endangered Species Act protections for eastern black rails. As a result — more than 10 years after the Center petitioned for the species’ protection — the Service finally listed the eastern black rail as threatened in October 2021. In March 2021 the Center and Healthy Gulf notified the Service of their intent to sue to challenge the agency’s decision not to designate critical habitat for this species.

The eastern black rail once occurred across much of the eastern United States, but the rapid disappearance of wetlands has caused a steep decline in its populations.

The Service found that the bird is likely to be driven completely extinct over the next five decades, primarily because of wetland habitat destruction from urban and agricultural sprawl and climate change. The agency also found that in the next 15 years the rail will likely be extinct throughout the Great Plains.

The birds are gray-black with a chestnut neck and bright red eyes. Black rails are extremely secretive, walking or running under dense marsh vegetation to catch prey, including insects, snails and seeds.

“It is well past time that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes action to protect this species from extinction,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf. “The dire warning that this species could face extinction within 48 years if nothing is done should be a wakeup call that this bird deserves the highest level of protection.”

Eastern black rail banding in Texas in January 2017. Please credit: Christy Hand, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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