Enviros Falter in Zoo-Licensing Challenge

     (CN) – Environmentalists challenging the licensing renewal of an Iowa zoo that allegedly keeps its animals in deplorable conditions have stumbled in one of their court battles.
     In addition to the administrative battle in Washington against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for licensing the Cricket Hollow Zoo, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has sued the zoo itself in Iowa under the Endangered Species Act.
     “Simply put, the USDA allows the Cricket Hollow Zoo to continue operating, even when it knows the zoo cannot comply with the Animal Welfare Act,” Jessica Blome, staff attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said in an interview. “The zoo’s chronic violations include inadequate or failure to provide veterinary care to sick or injured animals; soiled bedding; feces-ridden enclosures; and lack of potable water and wholesome food. Often, the zoo’s failure to provide veterinary care to sick or injured animals causes immense suffering and even death.”
     The Iowa action remains pending, but U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on Tuesday shot down an attempt by the group to compel the administrative record.
     The record at issue includes “all of the license applications, licenses, inspection reports, official warnings, enforcement actions, and communications and correspondence to or from the agency regarding the zoo.”
     In addition to that record’s production, the environmentalists sought to supplement the record with various other documents that the agency has compiled, claiming that these documents also warranted consideration as part of the zoo’s relicensing.
     Kollar-Kotelly found Tuesday, however, that the environmentalists failed to show that the agency considered these new documents either directly or indirectly.
     “Defendants have repeatedly stated that they did not consider, for the purposes of renewing the license in this case, the documents that plaintiffs seek to have included in [the] administrative record,” the four-page opinion states. “Instead, they state that they only considered the limited materials in the application in order to determine whether the applicant has complied with the requirements of renewing a license, which they have construed to be effectively ministerial.”
     A motion by regulators to dismiss the action remains pending.
     The Animal Legal Defense Fund noted its disappointment with the court’s decision, saying “a full record would have forced the USDA to disclose emails among USDA officials that plainly demonstrate USDA’s knowing acceptance of Cricket Hollow Zoo’s unyielding violations of the Animal Welfare Act.”
     Insisting that the decision reflects only a “minor setback,” however, Blome spoke about the ALDF’s confidence that “the USDA’s decision to disregard animal welfare when it renews the zoo’s license is unlawful.”
     “We look forward to the court’s ultimate decision on whether such an approach violates the statutory scheme,” Blome added.
     Two sisters who claim to be frequent visitors of the zoo, Tracey and Lisa Kuehl, joined the group as a plaintiff.
     U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack is named as defendant, as is Robert Gibbens, the western regional director of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
     The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on Kollar-Kotelly’s decision.
     Their Iowa action against the zoo also names owners Pamela and Tom Sellner as defendants.

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