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CASE CLOSED! Court Upholds Protections for Rare California Gnatcatcher

Big victory for a tiny songbird.

A federal court dismissed a lawsuit seeking to remove the imperiled coastal California gnatcatcher from the Endangered Species Act list, ensuring the bird is protected.  The plaintiffs’ deadline to appeal the ruling passed and they did not file an appeal, delivering a big victory for the gnatcatcher and their coastal sage scrub habitat.

The decision from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia came after years of attempts by developers to delist the tiny songbird. The gnatcatcher lives in the rapidly declining sage brush habitat unique to coastal southern California and northern Baja California.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Endangered Habitats League, Laguna Greenbelt, Earthjustice, National Audubon Society and Center for Biological Diversity intervened to retain federal protections for the bird.

The gnatcatcher’s status has been threatened repeatedly by developers and industry groups since the gnatcatcher was protected under the Endangered Species Act more than 20 years ago. The court, however, said that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that they had standing to challenge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to retain Endangered Species Act protections for the bird.

“This latest failed lawsuit from the opponents of the coastal California gnatcatcher has shown that they’ll try anything to remove Endangered Species Act protections for this wonderful California bird,” said Sarah Rose, executive director of Audubon California. “Audubon is pleased that the court has dismissed this case  and that this bird will continue to enjoy these protections as it struggles for survival against all the threats it faces.”

“The listing of the coastal California gnatcatcher on the federal endangered species list and designation of its critical habitat has made the bird the last stand in preventing the development of hundreds of thousands of acres of vital habitat in Southern California,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, staff attorney at Earthjustice who represents the National Audubon Society. “We’re grateful to the Court for rejecting the building industry’s latest attempt to eliminate these important protections.”


National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. 

Audubon California is building a better future for California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. With more than 350,000 members and supporters in California and an affiliated 48 local Audubon chapters, Audubon California is a field program of the National Audubon Society. More information is available at

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