That resolve eventually led her to combine a lifelong devotion to animals with a ferociously combative spirit. Four years ago Biggs, a lawyer since 1993, founded the Animal Law Center in Boulder, Colo., likely the nation's only legal practice aimed solely at applying environmental law to the protection of creatures from pigs to prairie dogs. "She has a great sense of justice for beleaguered animals," says David Crawford, of Boulder's Rocky Mountain Animal Defense. "When she takes something on, she takes it on with great intent."
Predictably, controversy often follows. The Rosebud Sioux tribal council in South Dakota eagerly anticipated hundreds of new jobs spurred by the opening of the nation's third-largest hog farm on tribal land. But Biggs, representing some tribal members, convinced a judge that the federal plan to lease the 1,200 acres broke environmental laws. Her own main concern was the 859,000 pigs that would have occupied the facility. "They would have been kept in crates so small," says Biggs, "they could barely turn around."
Elsewhere her courtroom skills secured temporary orders halting plans to kill the coyotes that scurry across runways at the Colorado Springs airport, and stopped an Idaho effort to kill red foxes, badgers, ravens and other predators of an endangered bird called the sage grouse. Todd Malmsbury, of Colorado's Department of Wildlife, faults her for singling out individual species for protection rather than taking "a broad approach." Biggs has even drawn the ire of sometime allies with her opposition to Colorado's plan to kill 15,000 deer as a measure against chronic wasting disease, a mad-cow-like illness that some experts worry could spread to humans. The Colorado Wildlife Federation's Jim McKee finds such positions impractical: "On some issues she has gone off the deep end."
Biggs would call that passion. "I went to law school to champion the rights of the most overlooked class of beings—animals," she says. She has won most of her cases, even against powerful opponents. "It's more than a job for me. I'm living and breathing what I'm arguing for."
The seeds of her life's work were sown in Greenwich, Conn., where she grew up the second of three children of investment writer Barton Biggs, 70, and his wife, Judy, 66, a homemaker. "She always lived with animals," says Judy, noting that the family adopted several dogs from a shelter. After attending Yale on a tennis scholarship, Biggs moved to Idaho and fell in love with Tom Mayson, who had been a river guide for her family when she was a teen. He collapsed and died while playing touch football with her father on a visit to Greenwich. "You don't get over it, but sometimes in the worst pain is the greatest growth," says Biggs. "After his death," says brother Barton, 34, a CNN writer, "she seemed to be on a mission."
Biggs took a job handling environmental issues for Connecticut Sen. Lowell Weicker and in 1990 earned a master's in natural resources at the University of Washington. While pursuing a law degree at the University of Colorado, she met and wed classmate Mike Chiropolos, now 39; the couple had sons Nikos, 8, and Archer, 7, before divorcing in 1997. The following year Biggs launched the Animal Law Center. The sole litigator, she represents clients pro bono, billing defendants (usually the government) when she wins. Biggs earns about $100,000 per victory (averaging a case per year) and supports the center with donations.
Now raising her sons on a 5-acre farm near Boulder with a menagerie of horses, goats and dogs, Biggs has a boyfriend, Pepper Tonsmeire, 51, who lives on an island off Honduras. But she directs much of her love elsewhere. "The qualities you see in an animal are better than you ever see in a human," she says. "True loyalty."
Vickie Bane in Boulder