California Court Recognizes Conservation Exception to Fully Protected Species Law

On an issue of first impression, a California court has created a judicial exception to the take prohibition in the state’s fully protected species statutes.  On March 20, 2014, the California Court of Appeal held that the live trapping and translocation of a fully protected species does not constitute prohibited take of the species.  Center for Biological Diversity v. California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, 2014 Cal.App. LEXIS 256 (March 20, 2014) (pdf).  The decision addresses a common conundrum in California:  whether actions to protect a species authorized by the state and federal endangered species acts are nevertheless prohibited by the state’s fully protected species law.  The decision is the latest round in the long-running battle over the development of the Newhall Ranch project in northern Los Angeles County.

As a condition of approval of its project, the landowner agreed to implement various measures to protect the unarmored threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus williamsoni) – a fish protected by the state and federal endangered species acts and also by the California fully protected species law.  The measures included live trapping and transplanting of the stickleback away from construction areas.  The petitioners argued that the trapping and translocation measures would necessarily result in take of the stickleback prohibited by the fully protected species law.

The court read the take prohibition in the fully protected species law in conjunction with the definition of conservation in the California Endangered Species Act to conclude that the measures to conserve a species, including trapping and transplanting the species, do not constitute take prohibited by the fully protected species law. The decision is an important interpretation of the interplay of the two state laws and should provide greater flexibility to project proponents seeking to implement measures designed to conserve a fully protected species.

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  • Robert D. Thornton

    Robert Thornton specializes in advising state and regional infrastructure authorities on environmental issues regarding large infrastructure projects. He has successfully defended more than $12 billion in regional ...

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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