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Conservationists File Lawsuit to Force Agency Transparency
John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center,
Washington, D.C. – Today, Western Law Environmental Center and WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C’s federal district court after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to respond to two different Freedom of Information Act requests in violation of federal law.
The nonprofit conservation organizations are seeking information to help safeguard two imperiled wildlife species: the wolverine, which was recently denied protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, and the Canada lynx, which is listed as a threatened species under the ESA.
"USFWS is repeatedly obstructing our access to public information calling into question President Obama's commitment to transparency in government," said John Mellgren, WELC attorney, who filed today’s lawsuit. "The agency forced us to file this lawsuit by failing to respond to our FOIA requests."
On August 13, 2014, the groups submitted a FOIA request seeking certain documents related to USFWS’s decision reversing its proposal to list the wolverine as a threatened species under the federal ESA. USFWS failed to respond to the wolverine FOIA request, except to acknowledge receipt, by the legally mandated date.
A month later, on September 12, 2014, the groups submitted a FOIA request seeking certain documents related to the agency’s decision to revise habitat protections for the threatened Canada lynx. USFWS did not comply with this request either.
In both situations, the groups reached out to the agency to resolve these violations of federal law and avoid a lawsuit. However, the agency did not reply.
FOIA, designed to create transparency and accountability in government, provides a mechanism for citizens to request information from federal agencies and receive a timely reply. The sought after information in both FOIA requests is time-sensitive and pertains to the groups’ efforts to protect and restore two rare wildlife species, the wolverine and the Canada lynx. Thus, the groups had no choice but to file a lawsuit to force the agency to comply with federal law and share information.