Non-profit

Center for Biological Diversity (CBD)

Website:

www.biologicaldiversity.org

Location:

TUCSON, AZ

Tax ID:

27-3943866

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Budget (2016):

Revenue: $14,758,498
Expenses: $13,967,168
Assets: $20,370,536

Formation:

1991

Type:

Environmental Activist and Legal Advocacy Group

Founders:

Kieran Suckling

Peter Galvin

Todd Schulke

Robin Silver

Executive Director:

Kieran Suckling

Executive Director's Total Compensation:

$295,823 (2017) [68]

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) is a left-of-center environmental activist and legal advocacy organization based in Tucson, Arizona. [1] Total revenue for 2017 exceeded $20.1 million, and as of March 2019, it had at least 160 employees, including more than 40 attorneys. [2] [3] CBD policy goals have included population control (including promotion of both abortion access and voluntary male sterilization), opposition to the elevation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, and blocking construction of President Donald Trump’s proposed wall on the southern border of the United States. [4] [5] [6] [7]

The organization that became CBD was created in 1991 by Kieran Suckling, Peter Galvin, Todd Schulke and Robin Silver. Prior to creating CBD, Suckling, Galvin, and Schulke were contractors for the U.S. Forest Service, surveying the Mexican spotted owl population. The three men claim to have lost their contracts because of a 1990 incident when—against the agreements they had signed with the government—they revealed the location of spotted owl nests to a media source. They claimed to expose the Forest Service illegally allowing logging near the owl habitat. As of 2010, the Forest Service still maintained that the men were incorrect in their accusation regarding the illegal logging. [8] [9]

Suckling is CBD executive director, and as of 2017, his total compensation was $295,823. [10] He is a former protester with the radical-left direct-action environmentalist organization Earth First![11] As of 2017 the combined total compensation from CBD for the four co-founders was nearly $950,000. [12]

In 2005, an Arizona jury assessed a $600,000 libel judgment against CBD in a case filed by rancher and investment banker Jim Chilton. [13] CBD had posted photos and allegations on its website asserting Chilton was allowing destructive overgrazing on his allotment in a national forest. Chilton provided wider angle photos of the same scenery, showing healthy trees and greenspaces located in the same vistas, convincing the jury that CBD’s pictures and representations had been selective and misleading. Of the total judgment, $500,000 was in the form of punitive damages, which a newspaper account said was the jury’s intent to “punish [CBD] and deter others from similar libel.” [14]

General Background

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) is a left-of-center environmental activist and legal advocacy organization that claims to have 1.4 million “members and online activists.” [15]

It is based in Tucson, Arizona, but has 16 additional offices in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia, and the Mexican state of Baja California. [16] As of March 2019, the website lists more than 160 employees, including more than 40 attorneys. [17]

CBD’s policy strategy, according to a 2010 New York Times profile, is to file “relentless lawsuits” seeking stricter enforcement of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Clean Air Act and other federal environmental laws, most often by petitioning to list new species on the ESA or beef up enforcement for those already listed. [18]

In his 2005 book, The Limits of Civic Activism, University of Illinois-Urbana political science professor Robert Weissberg analyzed the impact of CBD and other organizations like it and found a much broader agenda:[19]

Here lawsuits are ingeniously filed under the Endangered Species Act to add allegedly endangered species or protect existing ones. In 2001 the Fish and Wildlife Service was contesting some eighty suits on this matter, and an additional ninety were in the works. In short, a Herculean aim – eliminating all economic use of undeveloped land – was being accomplished via shrewd litigation on behalf of plants and animals!

The 2010 New York Times profile stated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) was the “target of most of [CBD’s] legal work” and that FWS “says the relentless petitions and lawsuits over endangered species have diverted too many agency resources to the courtroom.” The Times quoted the chief of the FWS office of litigation, who observed that the heavy load of Endangered Species Act legal filings from CBD and others had “crippled our ability to put species on the endangered species list.” [20]

In mid-2017, CBD registered as a federal lobbying entity for the first time in its history, listing six CBD staffers who would lobby federal officials. When asked to comment on the reason for adding lobbying to CBD’s activism, the CBD government affairs director blamed President Trump: “The level of threats has grown exponentially with [President] Trump, so we had to ramp up our congressional work a lot.” A report in Environment and Energy News listed protecting CBD’s ability to collect legal fees from the government and opposing the Trump’s judicial nominees as specific objectives of the CBD lobbying arm. [21]

History

CBD was created in Arizona in 1991 as the Greater Gila Biodiversity Project. It was renamed the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity in 1994, and finally the Center for Biological Diversity in 1998. The co-founders of CBD are Kieran Suckling, Peter Galvin, Todd Schulke and Robin Silver. [22]

In 1989 Galvin was a contractor for the U.S. Forest Service, surveying Mexican spotted owls, and supervising other contractors. A woman working with Galvin had recently been jailed with – and then romantically involved with – Suckling, after she and Suckling had been arrested for participating in a protest with the radical-left direct-action environmentalist organization Earth First! The woman recommended Suckling to her boss, Galvin, and Suckling was soon hired into the owl survey crew that – at some point – Schulke had also joined. Silver, an emergency room physician and owl enthusiast, met Suckling, Galvin, and Schulke while photographing the owls. [23] [24]

Suckling, Galvin and Schulke assert that in 1990 they discovered the Forest Service was allowing commercial logging within the protected habitat of the owl nests. Speaking to the New York Times in 2010 a spokeswoman for the Forest Service refuted this claim, saying logging “did not occur in these areas” and that owl nests were then given a 100-acre protected area she characterized as “no touch” zones. She implied the CBD co-founders may have been mistaken regarding tree-cutting then occurring in nearby non-protected areas: “other projects did occur and could have included thinning projects to reduce wildland fires, tree plantings or other wildlife projects.” [25]

The three Forest Service contractors, who had agreed in writing not to reveal the location of the owls they discovered, nonetheless took their allegations about supposedly-illegal logging to a local newspaper. The Forest Service terminated their contracts in 1991, and they – along with Silver – created the Greater Gila Biodiversity Project. [26] [27]

Cases and Programs

CBD uses its litigation and advocacy to advance left-of-center political objectives related to both the environment and other matters. As of March 2019, the masthead of the main page of the website stated: “We’ve sued Trump 117 times—and we’re nowhere near finished.” [28]

Border Wall Lawsuit

Early in 2017, following the incoming Trump Administration’s announced intention to build some form of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, CBD filed a lawsuit against the Administration for injunctive relief. The filing claimed the U.S. government had been failing to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act by neglecting to undertake an environmental analysis of the U.S. southern border. The suit was filed against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. [29]

Just after the lawsuit had been filed a spokesman for CBD claimed to an interviewer that the last environmental analysis of the border region had been conducted in 2001, and that it was only good for about five years. He said the new analysis, if it took place, would “take years for an environmental impact statement like that to play out,” presumably blocking the President’s border security policy agenda at least until the analysis work was finished, and perhaps afterward. [30]Population Control Advocacy

Preventing human reproduction, which includes support for abortion, is a major policy goal of the Center for Biological Diversity. [31] [32]

CBD’s Population and Sustainability Program asserts a “link between human population growth and the wildlife extinction crisis” and that “we can still save wildlife, by choosing to stop hogging the planet.” [33] CBD asserts having just one child “increases your carbon legacy by 20 times what you could save over a lifetime of recycling, switching to low-voltage light bulbs and driving a hybrid car — combined.” [34]

The program claims to have distributed more than a half-million “endangered species condoms” – prophylactics packaged in wrappers with colorful images of wildlife. The condom packages have been emblazoned with contraceptive slogans linking human reproduction to animal endangerment (i.e.: “Wrap with care, save the polar bear”), with each related to narratives explaining the supposed connection between danger to the particular species and the birth of new babies. [35] [36]

CBD also encourages male sterilization. During the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament (“March Madness”), the Population and Sustainability newsletter encouraged male fans to “get a team of players together — if you have like-minded friends” to undergo group vasectomy surgeries. “March Madness is upon us,” began the message. “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.” Playing along, according to CBD, “means you can help give wildlife like your favorite mascots, from wildcats to horned frogs, a better shot at surviving past the playoffs.” [37]

In a July 2018 edition of the same newsletter, CBD denounced then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as “Trump’s Dangerous Supreme Court Pick” due to Kavanaugh’s alleged “track record of ruling against access to abortion” which CBD stated is “a critical part of reproductive freedom and protecting women’s health.” The missive ended with a call-to-action encouraging readers to ask their U.S. Senators to vote down the Kavanaugh appointment. [38]

The Argosy Foundation, which has given at least $415,000 to CBD, appears to be one major funder of the population control program. A page on the Argosy website declares: “The Argosy Foundation has partnered with the Center for Biological Diversity in support of the non-profit’s 7 Billion and Counting: The Human Overpopulation Campaign.” The Argosy page notes that so-called “overpopulation” has been a “politically charged” issue that has been “avoided over the years by many individuals and environmental groups.” [39] [40]

Obama Clean Power Plan

CBD promoted a plan to encourage the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set a national limit for emissions of carbon-dioxide and other “greenhouse” gases in 2010 during the Obama administration. At the time, this was considered a radical proposal and opposed by left-of-center environmental organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club. [41]

In 2015 the Obama Administration announced its so-called “Clean Power Plan,” in which the EPA would regulate emissions from electric power plants, a policy very similar to the robust actions advocated by CBD five years earlier. Before the policy was implemented it was repealed in 2017, by an EPA headed by an appointee of President Trump. [42]

Controversies

Libel of Chilton Ranch

In 2005, an Arizona jury assessed a $600,000 libel judgment against CBD in a case filed by rancher and investment banker Jim Chilton. In July 2002, CBD had tried to get Chilton’s public-land grazing permit rescinded and had posted photos and allegations on its website asserting Chilton was allowing destructive overgrazing and damage to animal habit on his 21,500-acre allotment in a national forest. [43]

Chilton’s lawyers provided wider angle photos of the same scenery, revealing healthy trees and greenspaces located in the same vistas. What had allegedly been presented by CBD as barren images caused by overgrazing were shown to be campsite areas used by hunters, and a parking lot used for an annual festival. The jury was persuaded the CBD photos had been misleading. [44]

Only $100,000 of the judgment was for actual harm inflicted on Chilton and his cattle company. The jury tacked on $500,000 in punitive damages, which a newspaper account said was the jury’s intent “punish [CBD] and deter others from similar libel.” CBD, asserting the representations were protected under the First Amendment, unsuccessfully tried to have the decision appealed and lost, forcing CBD and its insurance company to pay the judgment. [45]

Kieran Suckling Shoplifting

In 1994, Kieran Suckling, then the director of the organization that would later become CBD, shoplifted hiking boots and bedroom slippers from a Wal-Mart. He pleaded no contest to the charges and was fined $67. Explaining the incident two years later, Suckling said “It was a bad combination of poverty and stupidity—mostly the latter.” [46]

The board of directors suspended him from the director’s job for three months and prohibited him from speaking to media for six months. Local critics reportedly began referring to him as the “Shoeman.” [47]

Financing

CBD’s budget has grown rapidly. Total revenue for 2002 was $1.6 million, but by 2017 had exceeded $20.1 million, up from $14.7 million in 2016. [48] [49]

In the early years of CBD, according to a New York Times profile, the “biggest benefactor” was controversial left-of-center Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, giving through his Wyss Foundation. From 2003-2006 the Wyss Foundation gave at least $500,000 to CBD. Kieran Suckling stated in 2010 that Wyss had pledged an individual donation of an additional $10 million to be given to CBD between 2007 and 2011. [50] [51]

The Sandler Foundation has also been a very large institutional donor to CBD, giving $7.7 million from 2003 through 2017. [52]

Other left-leaning foundations that have donated large total sums to CBD include the following:

Leadership

The following are the highest compensated staffers reported working for CBD, and their job descriptions. The information is from the 2016 and 2017 forms submitted by CBD to the IRS, and the online biographies provided by CBD, as of March 2019. [65] [66] [67]

Kieran Suckling is executive director and co-founder of the Center. His total reported compensation for 2017 was $295,823.

Todd Schulke is senior staff, co-founder, and a Center board member. He oversees forest protection and restoration. His total reported compensation for 2017 was $82,449. However, total reported compensation for 2016 was $153,881.

Robin Silver is senior staff, co-founder, and a Center board member. He is a retired emergency room physician and a professional wildlife photographer. His total reported compensation for 2017 was $296,054.

Peter Galvin is director of programs, co-founder, and a Center board member. His total reported compensation for 2017 was $272,485.

Paula Simmonds is the Center’s chief development officer. Her total reported compensation for 2017 was $184,143.

Brendan Cummings is the Center’s conservation director and attorney. His total reported compensation for 2017 was $141,025.

Michael Hudson is chief operating officer for the Center. His total reported compensation for 2017 was $165,526.

Kassie Siegel is senior counsel and director of CBD’s Climate Law Institute. Her total reported compensation for 2017 was $125,830.

References

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  27. MULKERN, ANNE C.; and ALLISON WINTER and ROBIN BRAVENDER. “Brazen Environmental Upstart Brings Legal Muscle, Nerve to Climate Debate.” New York Times. March 30, 2010. Accessed March 28, 2019. https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/03/30/30greenwire-brazen-environmental-upstart-brings-legal-musc-82242.html?pagewanted=all
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Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Kierán Suckling
    Co-Founder and Executive Director

Supported Movements

  1. Green New Deal (GND)
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: November 1, 2011

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2016 Dec Form 990 $14,758,498 $13,967,168 $20,370,536 $1,306,683 N $13,962,097 $500,025 $34,766 $622,504
    2015 Dec Form 990 $12,425,883 $11,285,672 $18,967,830 $693,639 N $11,775,253 $513,370 $20,822 $562,004 PDF
    2014 Dec Form 990 $14,036,639 $10,241,995 $17,636,286 $500,516 N $12,911,671 $1,360,957 $17,339 $833,702 PDF
    2013 Dec Form 990 $9,368,271 $7,927,944 $13,756,773 $415,760 N $8,633,507 $667,459 $24,944 $1,351,480 PDF
    2012 Dec Form 990 $6,786,706 $4,515,385 $12,282,335 $341,697 N $5,547,265 $1,234,460 $12,393 $663,225 PDF
    2011 Dec Form 990EZ $0 $0 $1 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2010 Dec Form 990EZ $0 $0 $1 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF

    Center for Biological Diversity (CBD)

    PO BOX 710
    TUCSON, AZ 85702-0710