Posts in Litigation.
Posted in Litigation

On August 25, 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied (pdf) an emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal to re-instate Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Utah. Environmental groups appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit on August 13, 2011, after a federal district court upheld legislation directing the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) to reissue a 2009 rule that removed ESA restrictions on the gray wolf, except in the state of Wyoming. The same rule was determined by a district ...

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Posted in Litigation

On August 19, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California denied in part and granted in part FEMA's motion for partial summary judgment (PDF) in the latest in a series of lawsuits filed against FEMA for failing to consult under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) regarding the impacts of its administration of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) on listed species that depend upon floodplains.

In their first claim for relief in Coalition for a Sustainable Delta v. Federal Emergency Management Agency, No. 09-2024 (E.D. Cal.), the plaintiffs ...

Posted in Litigation

In a recently issued decision (pdf), a U.S. District Court overruled a Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decision to delist the West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel because the delisting rule was not consistent with the species’ recovery plan and the recovery plan can only be modified after notice and comment rulemaking. Friends of Blackwater v. Salazar, 772 F. Supp. 2d 232 (D.D.C. 2010).

The squirrel was first listed (pdf) in 1985. In 1990, FWS issued a recovery plan (pdf) outlining four criteria to be met for delisting. In 2006, FWS conducted a species review (pdf) that recommended ...

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Posted in Litigation

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has suspended its letter of authorization (LOA) under Section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) allowing the States of Oregon and Washington to lethally remove California sea lions caught eating endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River.  NMFS cited pending litigation in Federal court and limited sea lion activity for its decision, and invited the states to renew their request for an LOA in 2012.  NMFS’ decision comes in the wake of an agreement (see earlier post) between wildlife advocates and the two states to ...

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Posted in Listing, Litigation

On July 12, 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced that is strengthening a work plan to address a backlog in making listing determinations regarding numerous candidate species.  The work plan is part of a settlement agreement (Agreement) with WildEarth Guardians (WildEarth) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the two plaintiff groups that most frequently file suit on endangered species issues.  The Agreement builds on a multi-year work plan that the Service had previously filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in May.

The Service ...

Posted in Listing, Litigation

In a closely watched and hotly contested challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to list the Polar Bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the final listing rule at 73 Fed. Reg. 28,212 (May 15, 2008) (pdf), the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a 116-page opinion (pdf) in which it upheld both the decision to list the bear as threatened, not endangered, and the Service's interpretation of "endangered species" as a species that is "on the brink of extinction."

As previously reported here, the Center for ...

The House Committee on Natural Resources is set to hold hearings on a bill that will allow for the lethal removal of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) caught eating endangered salmon and steelhead just below the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. The Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act (H.R. 946), introduced in March 2011, would allow the states of Washington and Oregon, and four local tribal organizations, to get year-long leases to lethally remove a limited number of sea lions that prey on salmon and steelhead listed as endangered under the Endangered ...

In a decision that addresses a number of the more difficult issues the federal wildlife agencies grapple with during the section 7 consultation process, the United States District Court for the District of Arizona recently struck down (pdf) a biological opinion (pdf) issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service for ongoing operations at Fort Huachuca that affect species in the upper San Pedro River area of southeastern Arizona. The court also held that the Department of the Army violated its section 7 obligation by relying on the legally flawed biological opinion.

Fort Huachuca is a major military base in southeastern Arizona. Base operations affect two listed species, the endangered Huachuca water umbel (Lilaeopsis schaffneriana ssp. recurva) and the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus). The court identified two categories of impacts to the species: direct and indirect effects of activities within the Fort’s boundaries and indirect effects on a portion of the San Pedro River including groundwater and surface water consumption.

Posted in Litigation

The states of Oregon and Washington have agreed to suspend the lethal removal of California sea lions caught eating endangered salmon and steelhead just below the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. The sea lion removal program had been implemented to reduce the number of sea lions that prey on salmon and steelhead listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the sea lions have a significant effect on the ability of the fish stocks to recover. The agreement was reached between wildlife advocates, including the ...

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On May 17, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia stayed its approval of a proposed settlement agreement (Agreement) aimed at expediting findings related to petitions to list 251 species. The Center for Biological Diversity (Center) opposed approval of the Agreement after being left out of the negotiation process.

As we previously reported, plaintiff WildEarth Guardians (Guardians) entered into the Agreement with the Secretary of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), under which the Service agreed to a six-year work plan to address ...

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced that it has developed a six-year work plan that would allow the Service to systematically review and address the needs of more than 250 species currently listed as candidate species for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The work plan is part of a settlement agreement (PDF) between the Service and WildEarth Guardians (WildEarth) that will be filed in a consolidated case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

While the Candidate List was envisioned as an administrative tool that would identify species for which the Service would shortly make listing decisions, the dramatic increase of listing petitions and lawsuits has led to a backlog of species on the list. The Service has received petitions to list more than 1,230 species in the last four years – nearly as many petitions as the amount of species listed under the ESA in the previous 30 years. The work plan provides a schedule for making listing determinations for current candidates species, and it includes some species that have been petitioned for protection under the ESA.

Posted in Litigation

On April 7, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a United States Forest Service (USFS) District Ranger's decision that proposed recreational suction dredge mining in the Klamath National Forest may proceed according to the miners' Notices of Intent (NOIs) without a Plan of Operations is not an "agency action," and therefore consultation is not required under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.  Karuk Tribe of California v. U.S. Forest Service, No. 05–16801, 2011 WL 1312564 (9th Cir. April 7, 2011) (PDF).

Specifically, the majority held that the District Ranger's decision not to require a Plan of Operation for the dredging "is an agency decision not to regulate legal private conduct.  In other words, the USFS's decision at issue results in agency inaction, not agency action."  Id. at *11. 

The Karuk Tribe presented evidence that the cumulative impact of recreational suction dredge mining to threatened Coho salmon and their critical habitat in the Klamath River "may affect" listed species by killing salmon and other fish eggs, killing food sources, destabilizing spawning substrate, and otherwise disturbing the salmon and their reproductive activities.  But the court's holding turned on the more fundamental question whether the District Ranger's determination that no Plan of Operations is required constitutes an "agency action."

The Tribe argued that the Ranger's decision is a decision to authorize the operations described in an NOI, therefore, consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service is required under section 7. 

A majority of the three-judge panel disagreed, concluding instead that "the NOI process was designed to be 'a simple notification procedure' that would 'assist prospectors in determining whether their operations would or would not require the filing of an operating plan.'"  Id. at *6-7.  In other words, a decision not to require a Plan of Operations is not a "permit," as the Tribe contended.  Instead, the NOIs were agency inaction, not  "agency action" that could trigger a duty to consult under section 7.

The majority found it especially significant that under Organic Administration Act of 1897 and the General Mining Law of 1872, miners have a right to enter public lands to prospect and remove mineral deposits.  Under Forest Service regulations, a Plan of Operations for mining activities on national forest land is required only if the District Ranger determines that the mining is likely to cause significant disturbance of surface resources.  Under the Forest Service regulations, once an NOI is filed, the District Ranger is not required to respond at all unless he or she determines that the mining will likely cause a significant disturbance of surface resources.  Thus a Ranger's response to an NOI "is analogous to the NOI itself, a notice of the agency's review decision.  It is not a permit, and does not impose regulations on the private conduct as does a Plan [of Operations]."  Id. at *7.

In his dissenting opinion, Judge William A. Fletcher concluded that the Forest Service has taken affirmative agency action because "[t]he Forest Service makes an actual decision whether to allow suction dredging to proceed pursuant to an NOI."  Id. at *15.  In addition, Judge Fletcher concluded that the Forest Service exercised discretion in approving or disapproving the NOIs in three ways.  First, "the Forest Service exercised discretion in formulating criteria for the protection of critical habitat of listed coho salmon" that "governed the approval or denial of NOIs for suction dredge mining."  Id. at *23.  Second, the Forest Service exercised discretion in refusing to approve an NOI where it determined that the NOI provided insufficient protection of fish habitat and insufficient mitigation for the loose tailing piles left by the dredges.  Id. at *24.  And third, the Forest Service exercised discretion insofar as its employees applied different criteria for the protection of fish habitat in different districts of the Klamath National Forest.  Id.

The majority rejected these arguments, arguing that the Tribe failed to argue that the formulation of protective criteria was itself an agency action triggering a duty to consult under section 7 (id. at *3 n.6), and although the Forest Service exercised discretion in determining whether to require a Plan of Operations, the NOIs at issue were not "agency actions" but rather inactions (id. at *5 n.8).

It remains to be seen whether the Tribe will file a petition for rehearing or a petition for certiorari seeking to have the decision overturned.

As explained in a previous posting, in November 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 187,157 square miles of land in, and sea ice adjacent to, Alaska as critical habitat for polar bear.

Shortly after the final rule was published in the Federal Register, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association (AOGA) sent a sixty-day notice of intent to sue (PDF) the Service, alleging that the designation violates the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Making good on its notice, on March 1, 2011, AOGA filed a complaint (PDF) in federal court seeking to invalidate the designation, which the trade ...

Posted in Litigation

On February 11, 2011, the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico approved a stipulated settlement agreement (pdf) between the Federal Emergency Management Agency ("FEMA") and WildEarth Guardians, obligating FEMA to, among other things, request that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ("Service") initiate formal consultation on the impacts of the National Flood Insurance Program (the "NFIP") in New Mexico.

The NFIP, which is administered by FEMA, enables property owners in participating communities to purchase flood insurance at a subsidized ...

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Posted in Litigation

On February 2, 2011, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California approved a settlement agreement (pdf) between the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ("Service"), the Center for Biological Diversity, and The Bay Institute, obligating the Service to reconsider the status of the longfin smelt (Spirinchus thaleichthys), including the San Francisco Bay-Delta population.  Under the terms of the settlement, the Service must conduct a rangewide review of the species and issue a new listing determination by September 30, 2011.

The ...

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Posted in Litigation

On October 29, 2010, the Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation filed a complaint (pdf) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California against the U.S. Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for actions approving a 709-megawatt solar project in the Imperial Valley between Octotillo and El Centro in southern California. The complaint challenges the BLM’s final approval of Tessara’s (formerly Sterling Energy Systems) 6,144-acre Imperial Valley Solar Project on BLM land under the Federal Lands Policy and Management ...

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Posted in Listing, Litigation

In a decision that could have profound implications for listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act, on November 4, 2010, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia remanded (PDF) the Polar Bear Listing Rule to the Fish & Wildlife Service for "additional explanation for the legal basis of its listing determination" that the Polar bear is a "threatened" not "endangered" species.

In essence, the court has asked the Fish & Wildlife Service to provide the court with its agency interpretation of "endangered species."  As previously discussed here, the Fish & ...

Posted in Listing, Litigation

On October 20, 2010, at a hearing on a motion for summary judgment filed by Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Center for Biological Diversity, a federal judge indicated that he intends to remand to the Fish & Wildlife Service its controversial decision to list the Polar bear as a threatened species rather than an endangered species.   See Polar Bear Endangered Species Act Listing and 4(d) Rule Litigation, No. 1:08-mc-00764-EGS (D.D.C. filed Dec. 4, 2008).

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service made history two years ago when it listed the Polar bear as a threatened species because it identified the devastating impacts of climate change on the bear's habitat as a major factor in the species' alarming decline.  In addition, the Polar Bear is the first, and so far, only mammal to be listed specifically due to climate change impacts.

Environmentalists had hoped that the listing would force the federal government to use its considerable regulatory authority under the Endangered Species Act to impose strict limits on emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs).  But a controversial rule issued by the Department of the Interior under Section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act placed strict geographic limits on the authority of federal agencies to require projects in Alaska to curb or mitigate their GHG emissions.  As previously reported here, much to the dismay of environmentalists, the Department of the Interior under the Obama Administration chose not to overturn the polar bear rule.  Instead, the Obama Administration has called for new legislation to address GHG emissions, and the EPA may use its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate GHGs.

Environmentalists immediately challenged the Polar Bear Listing Rule, arguing that the species should be listed as endangered, not threatened.  If they prevail on that issue, and the bear attains endangered status, then the Department of the Interior will no longer have the power to issue a 4(d) rule for the Polar bear.  Without the limits in the existing 4(d) rule, the wildlife agencies could, in theory, impose limits on GHG emissions from facilities and projects that receive discretionary federal funding or approvals anywhere in the country based on their impacts on climate change, which impacts the Polar bear.

The environmental plaintiffs have also challenged the validity of the 4(d) rule itself.  Thus, if the Polar Bear Listing Rule is ultimately upheld, their challenge to 4(d) rule will remain to be decided in subsequent proceedings.

Posted in Listing, Litigation

On October 19, 2010 the San Francisco Superior Court issued an order requiring the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) to reconsider its determination that the American pika is not threatened with extinction.  Center for Biological Diversity v. California Fish & Game Comm'n, No. CPF-090509927 (San Francisco Superior Court).

In 2008, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a petition to list the pika as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).  CBD argues that the pika is threatened with extinction because climate change in ...

Posted in Litigation

On July 21, 2010, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida ordered the dismissal of an Endangered Species Act ("ESA") challenge brought by no less than three states, six cities, and a host of local agencies (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), holding that the determination of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ("Service") was entitled to deference. 

The multi-district litigation, which also included a claim under the National Environmental Policy Act, alleged that the 2008 Biological Opinion issued by the Service for the U.S. Army Corps of ...

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Posted in Listing, Litigation

On Monday, September 27, 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued its determination that the Gunnison sage-grouse warrants listing under the Endangered Species Act, but that proposing that it be listed as threatened or endangered be postponed while the Service addresses the needs of higher priority species.

Historically, the Gunnison sage-grouse occupied southwestern Colorado, southeastern Utah, northwestern New Mexico, and northeastern Arizona.  But according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, its range has been reduced to seven separate populations in southwestern ...

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Last week, a man in southeast Alaska pleaded guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by twice intentionally ramming the boat he was operating into humpback whales, a listed species under the Act.  Federal prosecutors charged Kevin Carle with knowingly harassing, pursuing and harming whales, a violation that resulted in two years of probation and a $1,025 fine, reports the Juneau Empire.  Carle is now required to participate in an ESA Awareness program and must notify a probation officer if hired as a boat operator.

While in both instances Carle intentionally veered ...

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Posted in Litigation

After Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made major changes to its nationwide levee policies, including new standards in 2009 banning vegetation on or within 15 feet of levees. Earlier this year, the agency adopted a variance policy requiring trees and bushes to be removed by September 30 unless a new variance was granted, forcing levee owners and operators to scramble to meet the deadline.  According to a recent notice of intent to sue letter issued by the Center for Biological Diversity, this new variance deadline may be impossible to meet for many levee owners or ...

Posted in Litigation

On July 26, 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity filed another lawsuit challenging the Department of the Interior's regulation of offshore drilling, alleging that the Department failed to properly assess potential impacts on endangered and threatened species from large scale oil spills.  The lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, attacks the "policy" and "decisions" of the former Minerals Management Services (now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement) that exploration ...

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Posted in Litigation

On July 13, 2010, the National Wildlife Federation and Florida Wildlife Federation filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida alleging that the Federal Emergency Management Agency's ("FEMA") failure to consult with federal wildlife agencies on the potential impacts of implementing the National Flood Insurance Program ("NFIP") in Florida is a violation of the Endangered Species Act.  Specifically, the complaint alleges that implementation of the NFIP "promotes, encourages, and influences residential and ...

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Posted in Litigation

After nine years of environmental review and the arduous federal, state, and local permitting process, Cape Wind Associates, LLC (CWA) recently obtained the right to a commercial lease from the Minerals Management Service (recently renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement) to construct and operate an offshore wind facility located in federal waters 4.7 miles offshore Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound.

But on June 25, 2010 a coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit (PDF) in the federal ...

Posted in Litigation

In the latest round of litigation over endangered species impacts of water management in Southern Florida, a district court invalidated an incidental take statement applicable to actions of the Corps of Engineers to restore the Everglades.  The decision in Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida v. United States (PDF), is the latest in a line of decisions concluding that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to provide a sufficient justification for the use habitat conditions in lieu of a numerical cap on incidental take.  The decision is an example of the willingness of the federal ...

Posted in Listing, Litigation

Western Watersheds Project is again challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service's listing determination for the greater sage grouse.  On March 5, 2010, the Service determined that listing the greater sage grouse was warranted but precluded by higher priority species, thereby deeming the greater sage grouse a candidate species, which does not receive any protection under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA").  This determination was a reversal of the Bush Administration's 2005 determination that listing was not warranted for the species.  As discussed in a previous post, Western ...

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California issued a decision (PDF) granting plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by adopting and implementing NMFS' biological opinion and reasonable and prudent alternatives regarding the long-term operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project in California.

The NMFS biological opinion (PDF), which covers five listed anadromous and ...

Posted in Listing, Litigation

Another lawsuit (PDF) has been filed to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to act on a listing petition - this time for the whitebark pine tree, which is distributed across high-elevation areas in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, and southwestern Canada.  The Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned (PDF) the Service to list the whitebark pine in December 2008 claiming that climate change "poses one of the most significant threats to whitebark pine." 

The whitebark pine listing petition is one of several recent petitions seeking protection ...

On February 27, 2010, the Sacramento Bee published a story by Matt Weiser entitled "Lawsuit: Striped bass to blame for California's salmon decline." The story discusses an ongoing lawsuit (PDF) challenging the California Department of Fish and Game's enforcement of striped bass sport-fishing regulations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The lawsuit alleges that the enforcement of the striped bass sport-fishing regulations maintain an elevated striped bass population, which increases striped bass predation on a number of species listed under the Endangered ...

Posted in Listing, Litigation

Environmental groups have sued (PDF) the Fish and Wildlife Service to force the listing of the Sonoran desert tortoise in Arizona as a distinct population segment under the Endangered Species Act.  The lawsuit is the latest legal development that threatens to slow or block the national effort to promote the development of solar energy on federal lands in the Arizona desert.  The listing of a related population of desert tortoise across the border in California has triggered significant limitations on solar projects in the Mojave Desert. 

On August 28, 2009, the Fish and Wildlife Service ...

Posted in Listing, Litigation

The Center for Biological Diversity filed four lawsuits in federal district courts in Washington, D.C.,  Sacramento, California, Portland, Oregon, and Tucson, Arizona over petitions for species listings filed over the past decade.  The lawsuits against the Obama administration are aimed at forcing the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a finding on the listing petitions.

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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