Center for Biological Diversity

The Center for Biological Diversity is a radical environmental group that uses and abuses the court system to try to realize its cofounder’s dream of bringing industrial civilization to its knees. 

CBD has raked in tens of millions from wealthy left-wing foundations, including Pew Charitable Trusts, Rockefeller Family Fund, Jane Fonda’s Turner Foundation, and the Patagonia Fund. Many of its major gifts are “laundered” through donor-advised funds. 

The center uses its millions to fund a team of activist lawyers that files lawsuit after lawsuit. And the resources for these legal shenanigans aren’t just coming from shadowy environmental billionaires, but taxpayers as well. 

Extremist Roots

Kieran Suckling is a co-founder and executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. Suckling began his environmental activism with the group EarthFirst!.

EarthFirst! is a militant wing of the environmental movement founded in 1980 and a precursor of the terrorist group Earth Liberation Front, which was formed in England in 1992. EarthFirst! founder Dave Foreman published a how-to guide on “monkey-wrenching,” or sabotage. The FBI lists a 1986 EF! sabotage as a “terrorist” incident. EF! holds many radical views, including exploring the possible assassinations of people who disagree with their efforts. 

Suckling was arrested at the 1989 EF! Rendezvous after he chained himself to a road to block a timber sale. His arrest record includes not just assault, disorderly conduct, and trespass, but also shoplifting and interference with the peaceful conduct of educational institutions. Suckling reportedly pleaded no contest to the shoplifting.

Formation and Agenda

Suckling formed the Center for Biological Diversity in 1989 with three friends, signaling a change in tactics. “We’re crazy to sit in trees when there’s this incredible law where we can make people do whatever we want,” Suckling said of the Endangered Species Act, which provides a private right-of-action. This allows third-party organizations such as CBD to bring lawsuits. And Suckling has made good on his promise. 

Broadly, CBD exists to be a thorn in the side of modern civilization. According to the New Yorker, in a profile of CBD aptly titled “No People Allowed,” the net effect of CBD’s extreme environmental agenda means “settlements would be reduced, structures would be taken down, jobs would be lost.” 

CBD wants a “de-technologized” society. “We will have to inflict severe economic pain,” said cofounder Robin Silver to the New Yorkers. “We’d like to see belly-high grass over millions of acres,” commented another cofounder, Peter Galvin. 

“If we could implement everything that Peter could think of, we could bring industrial civilization to its knees,” commented Suckling.

Frivolous Lawsuits and Taxpayer Shakedowns

The trick to CBD’s success in court is its ability to exploit government bureaucracy. The Endangered Species Act mandates that the Interior Department respond to any petitions within 90 days. If the Department does not respond within those 90 days, the petitioning organization can sue and collect attorney fees from the Justice Department.

And those legal fees add up quickly. In 2003, roughly one-third of the CBD’s funding came from legal fees paid out by the Justice Department using taxpayer dollars. CBD even began coordinating petitions to drop hundreds in the same month, knowing that the department couldn’t possibly respond quickly enough. 

An official from the Obama administration lamented the situation during an interview with High Country News, saying, “CBD has probably sued Interior more than all other groups combined. They’ve divested that agency of any control over Endangered Species Act priorities and caused a huge drain on resources. In April, for instance, CBD petitioned to list 404 species, knowing full well that biologists can’t make the required findings in 90 days.”

Many of the lawsuits have little to do with protecting endangered species and have more to do with a far-left political agenda. For example, the CBD filed a lawsuit to prevent the Trump administration from constructing a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico in which they cited family separations as a main reason to stop the construction, despite hating the development of families (more on this later). 

The CBD is so proud of their lawsuits against the Trump administration that they established a “Trump Lawsuit Tracker” that highlighted each new frivolous case. They had filed 247 lawsuits by the end of 2020. 

But it’s often locals who suffer from CBD’s aggressiveness and litigiousness. Among its actions: 

  • CBD stalled the building of a high school in Tucson because of a 7-inch cactus ferruginous pygmy owl—a bird that had a large population in Mexico, but a small population in Arizona.
  • CBD called for the prosecution of a man who, while camping with his daughters, shot an aggressive wolf that attacked one of his dogs. 
  • CBD’s activism has thrown a wrench into the University of Arizona’s attempt to build a state-of-the-art observatory.
  • CBD attempted to stop the development of new communities in San Diego and golf courses in Palm Springs.

Hurting, Not Helping

Critics of CBD have argued that the center has done more damage than good by filing continuous lawsuits against the federal government. Ted Williams, a left-leaning environmental reporter, warned that the resources inside the Interior Department that needed to be shifted to address the endless flow of petitions from the CBD has forced the department to abandon other, more important projects. 

“[F]ar more hurtful than any money these agencies and the Department of Justice lose is the loss in time and effort of federal biologists who have to cease working for wildlife in order to spend weeks and months consulting with Justice about the endless, frivolous petitions filed by the Center,” Williams wrote.

Gary Frazer, the assistant director for endangered species at the Fish and Wildlife Service, agreed. In 2011, he told the New York Times that the continuous petition requests were leading to less protection of endangered species, not more.

“These megapetitions are putting us in a difficult spot, and they’re basically going to shut down our ability to list any candidates for the foreseeable future,” he said. “If all our resources are used responding to petitions, we don’t have resources to put species on the endangered species list. It’s not a happy situation.”

Confronting Home Builders and Libeling Rancher

CBD has a habit of aggressively protesting people who disagree with them. On a few occasions, these protests have crossed a line. 

In 2003, Suckling was arrested and charged with two counts of assault, one count of trespassing, and seven counts of disorderly conduct. Suckling had allegedly shoved two people with a homebuilders association while demonstrating at a press conference. While Suckling called the police report a “pack of lies,” he pleaded guilty to one count of criminal trespass. 

In 2005, CBD also was ordered to pay a rancher named Jim Chilton $600,000, including $500,000 in punitive damages, after a jury voted that CBD had made “false, unfair, libelous and defamatory statements.” The rancher claimed that CBD had posted defamatory and misleading photographs of his grazing allotment (CBD opposes grazing on public lands).

Population Control

Because humans disrupt nature when they build homes to raise their children, CBD has advocated for population control so there will be fewer humans and more nature. The center argued that humans need to “stop hogging the planet” by not having children. CBD has pushed population control campaigns in different ways. 

In one campaign, the CBD distributed “endangered species condoms” as part of a “pillow talk” campaign to spark conversations about how the world needs fewer humans:

“Our runaway population growth is too often ignored by the public, the media and even the environmental movement. Endangered Species Condoms offer a fun, unique way to break through the taboo and get people talking about the link between human population growth and the wildlife extinction crisis.”

The condom wrappers included phrases like “wrap with care, save the polar bear” and “before it gets hotter, remember the sea otter.”

In another campaign, the CBD used the annual March Madness basketball tournament to encourage men to get group vasectomies — something the organization called “brosectomies.”

“March Madness is upon us. And as all the number one seeds prepare for the tournament, it’s time to think about whether you want your own seeds to advance. Put less punnily, it’s time for all the male sports fans out there who don’t want (more) children to think about scheduling a vasectomy. With all those games on, you’ll have plenty to entertain you while you’re briefly benched. You could even get a team of players together — if you have like-minded friends — and make it a brosectomy.” 

The CBD also advocates for easy access to abortions and birth control as part of its population control campaign. 

“Meatstinction” and the End of Tasty BBQs

In what might be the lamest video trailer of all time, CBD detailed its effort to stop humans from consuming meat because of the effect meat production has on the environment. CBD argued that livestock is “one of the greatest threats to biodiversity, natural habitats and the global climate” and criticized anyone who consumes meat as participating in the “meatstinction” of various plants and animals. 

CBD argued under its population control campaign that one of the main reasons humans should stop procreating is because feeding the population is too disruptive to the environment. CBD claimed that the history of food production is riddled with “inequity and oppression.” To address this, they urged everyone at the CBD to go vegan or vegetarian. They also vowed that all of the CBD events involving food would be vegan. 

“The Center for Biological Diversity will only serve or pay for vegetarian food at Center events. Center events include in-office gatherings, out-of-office staff gatherings, and formal events such as member gatherings, board meetings, rallies, etc. Vegan options must be provided at all events. With the exception of specific health (e.g., diabetes) and cultural needs (e.g., sponsorship of Native American events), this is an absolute policy, not a preference.”

CBD has launched several campaigns to promote veganism, including a guide on how to have a vegan BBQ where delicious burgers and hotdogs are swapped out for grilled tofu. 

As an alternative, CBD recommended organic foods. Yet switching to organic foods may be more harmful to the environment than conventional agriculture. Growing organic vegetables requires more land leading to deforestation and additional carbon production.  

Misleading War on Plastic

CBD has several campaigns aimed at limiting plastic waste in the United States. In typical CBD fashion, this effort includes several lawsuits including one that aims to force the Environmental Protect Agency to regulate plastic in the same way they regulate dangerous contaminants under the Clean Water Act. 

CBD mentions the animals that die each year after consuming plastic in the ocean. They also lament the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

They failed to mention that the U.S. is responsible for little of this problem. The U.S. is responsible for less than 1% of the mismanaged plastic in the ocean. Most of the ocean trash can be traced back to Asian countries. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch consists of mostly abandoned fishing gear, not average consumer products.  

U.S. agencies have little control over what other countries do with their trash, but that won’t stop the frivolous lawsuits pouring out of CBD. 

Praise from “Mainstream” Environmentalists

Despite CBD’s sketchy record, the organization has been welcomed with open arms by groups that position themselves as more mainstream. 

Rob Smith, the Sierra Club’s Southwest staff director, said that the environmental community was “just very lucky CBD showed up when they did.” Others have echoed that sentiment, including Nathaniel Lawrence of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “They are, pound for pound, dollar for dollar, the most effective conservation organization in the country,” Lawrence said during an interview in 2002.