Posts from 2011

As we previously reported, on October 17, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that the Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by issuing a rule under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) regarding take of the threatened Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) (Special Rule) without conducting an environmental assessment.  As we discussed here, the Special Rule sets forth those measures and prohibitions the Secretary of Interior deems necessary and advisable for the conservation the polar bear, but it has ...

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that its Endangered Species Bulletin will be available exclusively in an online-only format going forward.  The Bulletin will be updated bi-monthly and will include a single in-depth feature articles, additional supporting articles, and other content.  The website for the Bulletin provides access to an archive that includes past editions back to 2000.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently reopened  the public comment period for its proposal to designate additional critical habitat for endangered Hawaiian monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi).  As we previously reported, on June 2, 2011, NMFS proposed revising the critical habitat for the Hawaiian monk seal pursuant to section 4 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by extending the current designation in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands out to the 500-meter depth contour, including Sand Island at Midway Islands; and by designating six new areas in ...

Posted in Court Decisions

The United States District Court for the District of Maryland recently decided (pdf) cross motions for summary judgment in a challenge to a biological opinion (BiOp) and reasonable and prudent alternative (RPA) in favor of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  In the BiOp and RPA, which NMFS developed at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and after consultation with that agency, NMFS evaluated the effects of chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion on 27 species of Pacific salmonids.  Plaintiffs argued that the BiOp and RPA were unlawful – in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA) – in a number of respects.  But the court rejected each claim and consistently deferred to NMFS as the expert agency charged with implementation of the ESA.

Plaintiffs claimed that NMFS improperly employed and relied on two models.  NMFS utilized results from application of the models to predict pesticide levels in streams that support the listed salmonids.  With respect to the use of one of the models by NMFS, the court opined that there seems to be a reasonable difference of opinion regarding whether the model accurately predicts pesticide concentrations.  But the court stated that it is not within the purview of this Court to weigh the evidence supporting [ ] extremely divergent scientific opinions and decide which of them is correct.  It appears though that, when the court held for NMFS on this issue, it may have been influenced by its view that the ultimate outcome would not differ across a range of predicted pesticide levels.

Posted in Listing

In response to a petition (pdf) from the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) to delist the coastal California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica) under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a 90-day finding (pdf) that the petition does not present substantial scientific or commercial information to indicate that delisting the species may be warranted.  PLF argued that the coastal California gnatcatcher is not a valid subspecies and should therefore be delisted.  In response, the Service acknowledged "that the taxonomic ...

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Tags: Listing
Posted in Court Decisions

Today, on October 31, 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States denied (pdf) review of a constitutional challenge to water delivery regulations regarding the Central Valley Project and California State Water Project intended to protect the threatened delta smelt. The petition for writ of certiorari was filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of Stewart & Jasper Orchards, and asserted that application of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to the delta smelt, a noncommercial fish that is only found in California, is an unconstitutional exercise of congressional power under ...

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied (PDF) an emergency motion (PDF) for an injunction pending appeal to the extent the moving parties sought an injunction prior to the court hearing oral arguments, currently scheduled for November 8, 2011.  At issue in the underlying appeal is the constitutionality of a law (Public Law 112-10 section 1713 (Section 1713)) passed by Congress that directs the Secretary of the Interior to reissue a 2009 final rule which removed Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for all wolves living in the Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wold ...

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Posted in Conservation

A NOAA task force, made up of representatives from state and federal agencies, tribes, and interest groups, voted on Monday to recommend that NOAA Fisheries permit Oregon and Washington to remove up to 85 California sea lions a year in order to protect listed salmon and steelhead.  Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NOAA is charged with protecting marine mammals such as the California sea lion; but, NOAA is also the lead agency responsible for saving Columbia River salmon and steelhead, which are listed under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA").  Since 2002, California ...

Posted in Litigation

On October 17, 2011, U.S. District Judge Sullivan issued two opinions in the Polar Bear litigation previously blogged about here.  In the first opinion (pdf), Judge Sullivan held that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by issuing a rule under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) regarding take of the threatened Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) without conducting an environmental assessment. 

As previously reported here, the 4(d) rule for the polar bear sets forth those measures and prohibitions the Secretary of Interior deems necessary and advisable for the conservation the polar bear, but it has the effect of specifically prohibiting the federal government from using the polar bear's threatened status to regulate GHG emissions of activities that occur outside the polar bear’s range.  Earlier this year, Judge Sullivan upheld the Service's definition of "endangered" and its decision to list the polar bear as threatened.

Until the Service completes its analysis of the 4(d) rule under NEPA, an interim 4(d) rule issued in May 2008 remains in place.  Because the interim rule has the same effect as the final rule, the polar bear will continue to receive the same protections.

In the second opinion (pdf), Judge Sullivan held that the Service did not abuse its discretion when it determined that the polar bear is a "depleted" species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and therefore sport-hunted polar bear trophies are not eligible for importation.

The Court also held that the Service did not abuse its discretion when it refused to process applications to import sport-hunted trophy polar bears that were pending at the time the Service determined that the species is depleted.   The Service stopped processing the applications because it determined that the applicants had not established that importing sport-hunted trophies would "enhance" the status of the polar bear by increasing the population or otherwise contributing to the recovery of the species.  Thus, the applications do not qualify for an exception to the MMPA's general ban on importing sport-hunted trophies of depleted marine mammals.

In response to a letter from two local congressmen (PDF), Republicans from the Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee have scheduled an oversight hearing to examine the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s recent designation of critical habitat for the Santa Ana sucker (Catostomus santaanae).  As reported on this blog, the Service published a final rule (Dec. 14, 2010) designating critical habitat for the Santa Ana sucker, a small fish species occurring in southern California.  The Final Rule designates nearly 10,000 acres in the Santa Ana and San Gabriel rivers and Big Tujunga ...

Nossaman’s Endangered Species Law & Policy blog focuses on news, events, and policies affecting endangered species issues in California and throughout the United States. Topics include listing and critical habitat decisions, conservation and recovery planning, inter-agency consultation, and related developments in law, policy, and science. We also inform readers about regulatory and legislative developments, as well as key court decisions.

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