• Posts by Brooke M. Wahlberg
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    Brooke Wahlberg focuses her practice on various areas of environmental law, including the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA), the Clean Water Act ...

Please join Brooke Wahlberg and Steve Quarles as they co-chair CLE International’s 3rd Annual MBTA & BGEPA Conference, happening on December 9-10, 2019, in Denver, CO. ...

On March 27, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral argument in Kisor  v. Wilkie (No. 18-15), focusing on whether Auer deference should be overruled.  While the dispute is not environmental in nature, this case has nonetheless attracted significant attention from the environmental community due to the potentially significant implications to environmental litigation.  Auer deference (or Seminole Rock deference) requires courts to defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of its own ambiguous regulations.  Enforcement actions ...

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On December 13, 2018, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado vacated an eagle take permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("Service") authorizing a construction company to disturb a pair of nesting bald eagles.  Front Range Nesting Bald Eagle Studies v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service et al., No. 1:18-cv-00356.  The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act ("BGEPA"), prohibits the disturbance of bald eagles or golden eagles.  The Service's regulations define disturb to mean ...

On December, 10, 2018, the United States Supreme Court granted a petition for writ of certiorari in Kisor  v. Wilkie (No. 18-15), which raises the issue of whether Auer deference should be overruled.  Auer deference (also known as Seminole Rock deference) requires courts to defer to an agency's reasonable interpretation of its own ambiguous regulations.  Auer deference is similar to Chevron deference, which requires courts to defer to an agency's reasonable interpretation of ambiguous statutes.  As this blog has noted, agency deference has been in the spotlight recently ...

This week, the media has reported two changes in key roles at the Department of the Interior (DOI) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  Greg Sheehan has reportedly left his role as Principal Deputy Director of USFWS.  Sheehan had held the role since appointed by DOI Secretary Zinke in June 2017.  As the Trump administration has not yet filled the role of Director of the USFWS, Sheehan had been the top official within USFWS.  Sheehan is expected to leave his role next week.

The media also reported this week that Andrea Travnicek has been named as Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish ...

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The most comprehensive Endangered Species Act (ESA) bill of this Congressional session made its debut on July 2, 2018 when Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, released a discussion draft of a bill proposing sweeping revisions to the ESA.  The discussion draft is a culmination of activity that began February 15, 2017, when the EPW committee held an oversight hearing on modernization of the ESA. Following that hearing, Senator Barrasso worked closely with the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) in drafting the ...

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has announced a 90-day comment period on proposed amendments to six Resource Management Plans (RMPs) and associated draft Environmental Impact Statements (DEISs) designed to protect the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus).  In 2015, BLM finalized RMPs that addressed greater sage grouse conservation efforts across ten states.  The six RMPs that are the subject of this latest comment period address restrictions on energy development and other activities in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Northern California, Oregon, Wyoming and Utah

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On April 3, 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published a final to rule listing the yellow lance mussel (Elliptio lanceolata) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The final rule states that only seven populations of this freshwater mussel remain, all of which are located in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.  The listing was prompted by a mega-petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and several other environmental organizations in 2010 that included the mussel.  In September 2015, after litigation had been filed regarding the ...

AWEA’s 2018 Wind Project Siting & Environmental Compliance Conference will be held from March 20-21, in Memphis, Tennessee.  Nossaman Environment and Land Use Partner Brooke Wahlberg and Senior Policy Advisor John Anderson will both be participating in the conference, where leaders from the wind industry, environmental permitting and compliance sector, the scientific community and regulatory officials come together for a robust discussion about the current state of siting and environmental compliance.  Discussions will provide key insights about wind energy development, operations, evolving trends, and strategies for improving the project permitting process and maximizing the output of operating assets, while increasing regulatory and legal certainty.

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On December 27, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit partially reversed and remanded a decision by the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii, delaying if not derailing an expansion in shallow-set longline swordfish fisheries.  Environmental groups brought claims against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) alleging violations of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, Endangered Species Act (ESA), Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), and the National Environmental ...

It has been a busy October for the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). On October 11, 2017, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced its intention to amend the existing greater sage grouse habitat management plans. The announcement applies to 98 plans across ten states. The Obama Administration finalized the plans in 2015 after ten years of coordination among stakeholders, including tribes, local and state government, environmental organizations, and the regulated community, as previously reported here. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) relied ...

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Nossaman LLP’s own Steven P. Quarles and Brooke M. Wahlberg are co-chairing CLE International’s upcoming 2nd Annual MBTA and BGEPA:  Hot Topics in Avian Protection conference.  This timely, in-person CLE will explore the complexities of federal wildlife laws and rules to protect migratory birds and eagles under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA).  Speakers will include state and federal policy makers, industry leaders, environmental advocates, and leading practitioners in the field.  Held in Denver, Colorado, from November 30 through December 1, the conference presents a unique opportunity for professionals involved in and affected by endangered species issues, rules, and regulations to learn from in-depth presentations on topics including:

Posted in Legislation

On July 19, 2017, the House Committee on Natural Resources held a full committee legislative hearing on five bills that would amend portions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

  • H.R. 424 (Rep. Collin Peterson; D-MN) – This bill would require the Department of Interior to reissue the final rules relating to the listing of the gray wolf in the Western Great Lakes and Wyoming.
  • H.R. 717 (Rep. Pete Olsen; R-TX) – This bill would remove the 90-day and 12-month deadlines for making listing determinations and allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries ...
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Posted in Court Decisions

On April 28, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the United States District Court for the District of Montana’s finding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) determination that listing the whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) as a threatened or endangered species is warranted but precluded.  Wildwest Inst. v. Kurth, No. 14-35431 (9th Cir. Apr. 28, 2017). Two environmental groups, Wildwest Institute and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies (Plaintiffs), filed a lawsuit challenging the Service’s determination, asserting that the ...

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On March 13, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas granted a preliminary injunction relying primarily on Endangered Species Act (ESA) claims, halting operation of a mooring project on the Lydia Ann Channel near Corpus Christi, Texas. Friends of Lydia Ann Channel U.S. Army Corps of Engineers v. Lydia Ann Channel Moorings, LLC, No. 2:15-CV-0514, (S.D. Tex. Mar. 13, 2017).  The Friends of Lydia Ann Channel (Plaintiff) filed the lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) seeking injunctive and declaratory relief for violations of the ESA and the ...

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On January 31, 2017, President Trump announced Judge Neil M. Gorsuch as his nominee to fill the ninth seat of the United States Supreme Court, left vacant since Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing in February 2016.  Judge Gorsuch currently sits as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.  President George W. Bush nominated Gorsuch to his current Tenth Circuit seat in 2006.  Early in his legal career, Judge Gorsuch clerked for Supreme Court Justices Byron R. White and Anthony M. Kennedy.  Many predict that Gorsuch will follow in the footsteps of the late Justice ...

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Posted in Court Decisions

On October 24, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the National Marine Fisheries Service (Service) determination listing the Beringia Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of the Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus nauticus) as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Alaska Oil & Gas Ass'n v. Pritzker, No. 14-35806 (9th Cir. Oct. 24, 2016).  In doing so, the Ninth Circuit reversed the United States District Court for the District of Alaska.   The decision reinforces the fact that the Ninth Circuit applies a highly deferential standard ...

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On September 19, 2016, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) published proposed rules to list two species of dolphin and two species of guitarfish under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  NMFS proposes to list the Maui’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) as endangered under the ESA and the South Island Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori hectori), the common guitarfish (Rhinobatos rhinobatos) and the blackchin guitarfish (Rhinobatos cemiculus) as threatened under the ESA.  Both subspecies of dolphin occur only in New Zealand.  The two guitarfish ...

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On August 4, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) issued a final rule confirming its 2011 revision to the designation of critical habitat for the marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus).  The Service listed the marbled murrelet as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1992.  In 1996, the Service designated 3,887,800 acres across Washington, Oregon, and California as critical habitat.  In 2003, the Service entered into a settlement agreement with the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) and Western Council of Industrial Workers, and agreed to ...

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On June 20, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-2 opinion in Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro et al., holding that the U.S. Department of Labor (Labor Department) was not entitled to receive Chevron deference with respect to its 2011 regulation addressing overtime exemptions in the auto industry.  No. 15-415, slip op. (June 20, 2016).  So-called Chevron deference arose out of a 1984 Supreme Court decision holding that agency regulations receive deference where a statute is ambiguous and the agency’s interpretation is reasonable.  Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resource Defense ...

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On May 6, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published its proposed revisions to the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) permit program.  The stated intention of these proposed revisions is to improve upon the 2009 regulations establishing a permit program under BGEPA.  In 2012, the Service issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking seeking public input on aspects of the 2009 regulations.  In addition to updating the best available science regarding eagle populations, conservation measures and causes of eagle mortality, the proposed revisions seek to ...

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On March 29, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted summary judgment in favor of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in a lawsuit involving the grant of a lease to Tule Wind, LLC for construction of the second phase of an industrial-scale wind energy facility. The Protect Our Communities Foundation v. Black, Case No. 14-cv-2261 (S.D. Cal. March 29, 2016). Plaintiffs alleged that BIA’s approval of the project (1) violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); (2) violated the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA); and (3) violated ...

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On April 4, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana vacated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) August 13, 2014 withdrawal of its proposed rule to list the distinct population segment of the North American wolverine (Withdrawal).  The Withdrawal signaled a complete departure from the Service’s February 2013 proposed rule to list the wolverine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The court’s decision is the newest chapter in what has been a contentious and storied path to a listing decision for the North American ...

On February 29, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas rejected the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (Service) request to reinstate federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the lesser prairie chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus).  Permian Basin Petrol. Ass 'n v. Dep 't of the Interior, No. 7:14-CV-50 (W.D. Tex. Feb. 29, 2016.).  In September 2015, the court ruled on a challenge brought by the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and four New Mexico counties and vacated the final rule listing the lesser prairie chicken as threatened under the ESA.  ...

On February 5, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively, the Services) announced the availability of two final rules and one policy addressing critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  One of the final rules  revises the definition of destruction or adverse modification, an issue that has been controversial among both critics and proponents of the proposed revisions.  The other final rule  is intended to clarify the criteria for designating critical habitat.  The final policy  updates existing policy on critical ...

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Posted in Listing

On December 24, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) released its annual Candidate Notice of Review (CNOR) summarizing the status of species that qualify as candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The 2015 CNOR identifies all species designated as candidates and explains the changes to the candidate list from the 2014 CNOR.  The Service assigns each candidate species a listing priority number (LPN) indicating the magnitude of the threat to a species’ continued existence (with one being the highest priority, and twelve being the lowest ...

On October 27, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) issued a memorandum to the Service Regional Directors announcing new guidance to streamline findings on petitions to list species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The stated purpose of the guidance is to streamline petition findings while ensuring [the Service] conducts an adequate review of petitions.   The memorandum clarifies that this guidance is interim guidance until the Service’s amendments to its petition listing rules are final.  Once finalized, the guidance will supersede previous guidance ...

Posted in Conservation

On the heels of the recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) decision not to list the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) under the Endangered Species Act and the concurrent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issuance of Records of Decision on over 98 land use plans focused on sagebrush habitat, the United States Geological Survey (USGS)  and many other agencies announced their issuance of part one of a three-part handbook series focused on sagebrush steppe ecosystems.  Several federal and state entities, including the U.S. Joint Fire Science Program and National ...

During the last week of its fiscal year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) made several findings under section 4 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to meet its obligations under the 2011 listing settlement workplan.  Below is a brief summary of these findings.

On September 29, 2015, the Service published a proposed rule to list four plant species from South Florida (specifically Miami-Dade and Monroe counties).  These include the Big Pine partridge pea (Chamaecrista lineata var. keyensis), the wedge spurge (Chamaesyce deltoidea ssp. Serpyllum) the sand flax (Linum ...

On September 1, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Midland Division vacated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Final Rule listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC) as threatened.  The Service had published its final rule listing the LPC as threatened on April 10, 2014 amidst significant controversy as to whether the listing was needed.  In conjunction with the decision to list the LPC as a threatened species, the Service issued a special take rule under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act.  The 4(d) Rule allowed those who participate in the ...

On August 31, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia largely upheld the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (Service) Biological Opinion (BiOp) addressing the impacts of seven fisheries on the Northwest Atlantic Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta).  The plaintiff, an ocean conservation organization, challenged the Service’s conclusion in the BiOp that the activities of the seven fisheries are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Northern Atlantic DPS.  The BiOp was accompanied by an ...

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On July 1, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published notice of its 90-day findings on petitions to list 31 species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Of these 31 species, all of which occur in the United States, the Service made positive 90-day findings on 21 petitions.  A positive finding on a listing petition prompts a 12-month review of each species by the Service to determine whether listing is warranted.  Of the remaining ten petitions, the Service concluded that nine petitions failed to provide substantial information demonstrating that listing action may be warranted.  Most species addressed in the findings originated from a 53-species mega-petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in July 2012.  If the Service finalizes its May 21, 2015 proposed rule to revise the regulations for species listing petitions, multi-species petitions such as the one filed by CBD will no longer be accepted by the Service.

Perhaps most notably, the Service’s publication included a denial of the petition to reclassify or downlist the gray wolf (Canis lupis) from its current status as endangered to threatened.  Twenty-two petitioners (including the Humane Society of the United States, CBD, and the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians) signed the 2015 petition requesting reclassification of the gray wolf (excluding the Mexican wolf subspecies (Canis lupus baileyi) throughout the conterminous United States).  The Service first concluded that the petition failed to provide substantial information indicating that the population proposed for reclassification may qualify as a distinct population segment.  The Service acknowledged that this finding alone was enough to deny the petition for reclassification, but stated that the status of the gray wolf has been a source of significant controversy over the past few years, and due to the controversy, also concluded that the petition did not provide substantial information indicating that the gray wolf at large would qualify as threatened rather than endangered.

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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