Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 19, 2020


Stephanie Kurose, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 849-8395,
Dustin Renaud, Healthy Gulf, (228) 209-2194,

Lawsuit Seeks to Finalize Endangered Species Protection for Eastern Black Rail

Rare, Secretive Bird Vanishing From Freshwater, Coastal Wetlands

NEW ORLEANS— The Center for Biological Diversity and Healthy Gulf sued the Trump administration and U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt today for failing to finalize a decision to protect eastern black rails under the Endangered Species Act.

The Center first petitioned to protect the species in 2010. In 2018, following a Center lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the bird as a threatened species under the Act. But the wildlife agency has yet to finalize the rule, leaving the rail without any substantive protection.

Today’s suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, notes that the rails once occurred across much of the eastern United States, but have lost major portions of their range and are in steep decline. In some areas the population has declined by more than 90% in under 25 years. Without protection the species is highly likely to be completely extinct by 2068.

“These charmingly odd, elusive birds are being shoved toward extinction because the Trump administration can’t be bothered to protect them,” said Stephanie Kurose, an attorney at the Center. “If we want to prevent eastern black rails from becoming the latest victim of the extinction crisis, we have to quickly get them the legal protections they desperately need.”

The primary threat to these rails is the destruction of wetlands by urban and agricultural sprawl. But the birds are also increasingly threatened by sea-level rise along the coast, groundwater withdrawals, more frequent extreme weather events, invasive species and pollution.

"The administration needs to act now to protect these birds and their wetland habitat,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf. “Swift action to protect wetland habitat will ensure survival of the eastern black rail and preserve the natural lines of defense for communities against storms and flooding.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service has long struggled to provide timely protection to species. The entire process of listing species and designating critical habitat is supposed to take two to three years. But on average it has taken the Service 12 years, and in many cases decades, to protect species. At least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

Eastern black rail. Photo by 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.

Founded in 1994, Healthy Gulf is a nonprofit focused on empowering people to protect and restore the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico region.

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