Posts in Regulatory Reform.

On August 27, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (Services) announced the finalization of regulations governing implementation of various aspects of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Among those regulations were rules setting forth how the Services and other federal agencies were to consult on potential impacts of federal activities on ESA-listed species and designated critical habitat.  The new rules were to go into effect on September 26, 2019.  Today, the Services ...

More than a year after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (collectively, Services) published proposals to revise several Endangered Species Act (ESA) implementing regulations, the agencies have announced that the final versions of the rules are ready for publication in the Federal Register ...

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is systematically revising species recovery plans issued under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  On August 6, 2019, USFWS published three notices of availability announcing public comment periods on its draft revisions to 70 recovery plans covering 121 species across the United States ...

In its newly-released proposed recovery plan for the Desert pupfish (Cyprinodon macularius), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has put into action its internal plan to add quantitative criteria to recovery plans.  The pupfish recovery plan, originally adopted in 1993, contained only qualitative criteria when adopted.  In its proposed revisions to the pupfish’s recovery plan, the Service adds quantitative criteria for whether the pupfish should be considered for delisting or when it has recovered, including the number of established populations that would make the ...

On April 29, 2019, Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-10-19 (EO) directing the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, in consultation with the Department of Finance (collectively, the agencies), to prepare a 21st century water resilience portfolio to meet the needs of California’s communities, economy and environment in the face of water supply uncertainty, climate change and the state’s growing population.  The EO’s sweeping directive requires the agencies ...

On December 28, 2018, the Department of the Interior (DOI) published proposed changes to its rules governing how it processes requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and provided a 30-day timeframe in which the public could submit comments to the DOI concerning those changes. The public review and comment period is currently scheduled to close on January 28, 2019. However, the partial government shutdown has caused several groups to question whether or not the public comment period should, in fact, close as scheduled. More than 1,200 comments have been ...

Nossaman’s Environmental Practice attorneys will be off to a great start in 2019 presenting at many key events around the U.S. focused on endangered species and environmental issues.

First, on January 10th, Austin-based Environment & Land Use Partner Brooke Wahlberg will speak at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 2019 Policy Orientation in Austin.  Brooke’s presentation is entitled Frogs or Freedom:  Are New Limitations Coming for the Endangered Species Act?  Policy Orientation is the premier gathering for all Americans interested in the future of the Lone Star State—and the country.  At Policy Orientation, scholars ...

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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On March 16, 2018, Nossaman Environment and Land Use Law Partner Svend Brandt-Erichsen will be serving as a member of the faculty for The Seminar Group’s CLE and Foresters program Pacific Northwest Timberlands Management: Regulations, Litigation, and Business Considerations. 

The full conference, held from March 15-16, 2018, at the Portland, Oregon World Trade Center, will also be available via live webcast and on demand following the live presentation.  Mr. Brandt-Erichsen’s presentation, entitled Practice Pointers for Energy Projects on Timberlands, will take place at 2:30 p.m. PT and will cover:  energy project permitting needs and timelines; potential wildlife impacts and related mitigation needs; and providing construction access and access during the project’s operating life.

Additional topics to be addressed at the conference include:

On December 22, 2017 the Department of the Interior (DOI) Solicitor's Office issued its revised interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act’s (MBTA) prohibition on the take of migratory bird species.  Official opinions from the DOI Solicitor’s Office are known as M Opinions and carry substantial weight in how DOI applies and enforces the various wildlife laws under its purview.  In January 2017, the prior DOI Solicitor issued Opinion M-37041, Incidental Take Prohibited Under Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which concluded that the MBTA’s broad prohibition on taking and ...

In the Fall 2017 publication of the Unified Agenda of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the Department of the Interior announced its intent to revise the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regulations governing interagency cooperation and exceptions to the conservation of endangered and threatened species of fish, wildlife, and plants. In a separate announcement in the same publication, the Department of the Interior stated that it intends to revise regulations governing the listing of endangered and threatened species and the designation of critical ...

On October 25, 2017, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) released a report entitled Review of the Department of the Interior Actions that Potentially Burden Domestic Energy identifying agency actions that potentially burden the development or use of domestic energy resources.  This report, generated in response to Executive Order 13783, identifies several costly and burdensome regulations that DOI believes hamper the production or transmission of domestic energy.  The report pays particular attention to the oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy sectors, and ...

In furtherance of the administration's broad infrastructure initiative, President Trump on August 15 signed an executive order (EO) entitled Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects.  The EO directs federal agencies to make coordinated, predictable, transparent, and timely decisions with the goal of completing all federal environmental reviews and authorization decisions for major infrastructure projects within two years.  Infrastructure project is defined by the EO to encompass ...

On June 8th, 2017, Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ryan Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3353, entitled Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation and Cooperation with Western States.  This Order initiates the assessment of both federal and state-led conservation efforts related to the greater sage-grouse and establishes a review panel to undertake the evaluation. The review panel will then recommend (potentially significant) changes to how the bird is managed. The stated purposes of the Order are to 1) enhance cooperation between DOI and the eleven western states comprising the ...

On January 20, 2017, Reince Priebus, the White House Chief of Staff and Assistant to the President, issued a memorandum to the heads of all executive departments and agencies ordering them to freeze the processing of all regulations.  The stated intent of this action is to ensure that the President’s appointees or designees have the opportunity to review any new or pending regulations.  At the outset, the memo states that, with the exception of regulations addressing any emergency situations or urgent circumstances relating to health, safety, financial, or national security ...

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The election of Donald Trump as President, together with Republican majorities in the House and Senate, is likely to lead to important policy changes across a range of issues. While administration of the Endangered Species Act and other federal wildlife laws has not been high profile during the election season, it is an issue area in which we are likely to see big changes.  The five key issues are as follows:

Department heads.  There will be a clean slate of Department heads, including new Secretaries of Commerce and the Interior.  Rumored candidates for Commerce include Chris Christie ...

On September 27, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (Agencies) published a final rule (pdf) that revises the regulations governing the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA) petition process.  According to the Agencies, the revisions are intended to improve the content and specificity of petitions and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the petition process to support species conservation.  The final rule, which revises 50 CFR 424.14, also clarifies the procedures by which the Agencies will evaluate petitions under section 4(b)(3 ...

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In a year that has already seen its fair share of attempts to reform the Endangered Species Act (ESA), another proposal has made its way into the House of Representatives.  Representatives Don Young (R-Alaska) and Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) introduced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 5650) on July 7, 2016.  The bill is based on a plan unveiled by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America's Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources four months ago.

H.R. 5650 would direct approximately $1.3 billion each year from federal energy and mineral development revenues into state-led ...

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published an interim rule (pdf) revising its civil procedure regulations for the assessment of civil penalties for violations of various laws and regulations within the Service’s jurisdiction.  The Service issued the revised procedures pursuant to the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015, which requires agencies to update statutory civil monetary penalties to adjust for inflation.  The purpose of the Inflation Adjustment Act is to maintain the deterrent effect of civil penalties and to further the policy ...

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On April 21, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively, Service) announced revisions to their proposed modifications  to  the Endangered Species Act (ESA) petition process. 81 Fed. Reg. 23,448 (Apr. 21, 2016) (pdf).  In May 2015, the Service announced proposed changes to the petition process for listing a species or seeking to change the listing status of a species under the ESA. 80 Fed. Reg. 29,286 (May 21, 2015) (pdf).  The Service’s proposed rule originally required petitions to list species to address only one species, contain ...

Environmental Management has released an advanced copy of an article I co-authored with Dr. Dennis Murphy entitled, Guidance on the Use of Best Available Science under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.  The principle purposes of the article are to identify the types of data, analyses, and modeling efforts that can serve as best available science and consider the role and application of best available science in effects analysis and adaptive management.  The article is available free of charge, here

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This week, two congressional committees are holding three separate hearings on issues related to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  On April 19, the House Committee on Natural Resources will hold an oversight hearing entitled Recent Changes to Endangered Species Critical Habitat Designation and Implementation.  On April 20 and 21, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Interior will hold two hearings to discuss delisting under the ESA.  Nossaman partner, Robert D. Thornton, will testify at the committee hearing on April 20.

The hearing before the Natural ...

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On March 8, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced (pdf) proposed revisions to its Mitigation Policy that has guided Service recommendations on mitigating the adverse impacts of development on fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats since 1981.  The revised policy provides a framework for achieving a net gain in conservation outcomes, or at a minimum, no net loss of resources and their values, services, and functions resulting from proposed actions.

The Mitigation Policy serves as over-arching guidance applicable to all actions for which the Service has ...

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On November 3, 2015, the President issued a memorandum entitled Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment. In it, he states [t]his memorandum will encourage private investment in restoration and public-private partnerships, and help foster opportunities for businesses or non-profit organizations with relevant expertise to successfully achieve restoration and conservation objectives. The memo includes five sections: policy, definitions, federal principles for mitigation, federal action to strengthen ...

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On August 14, 2015, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (Department) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking relating to nesting birds and birds of prey.  Specifically, the Department is proposing to adopt regulations implementing the prohibitions found in California Fish and Game Code sections 3503 and 3503.5.  In pertinent part, these sections make it unlawful to take, possess, or needlessly destroy the nest or eggs of any bird (section 3503) or any bird-of-prey (section 3503.5).  In short, the laws prohibit the take of non-endangered or non-threatened nesting birds and ...

Governor Brown has announced the nomination of Eric Sklar and Anthony Williams to serve on the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission).  The five-member Commission is established under article IV, section 20 of the California Constitution.  Under section 200 of the Fish and Game Code, the Commission has the power to regulate the taking or possession of birds, mammals, fish, amphibia, and reptiles.  Among other things, the Commission enacts hunting and sport-fishing regulations and determines whether to list and de-list species under the California Endangered Species ...

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While a number of Endangered Species Act (ESA) reform bills continue to wind their way through Congress (see our May 6, 2015 post), yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced their own plan to "increase regulatory predictability, increase stakeholder engagement, and improve science and transparency" when acting on petitions to list, uplist, downlist, or delist a species, as well as petitions to revise critical habitat designations.  Rather than revising the ESA itself, as some in Congress ...

On May 1, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively, the wildlife agencies) issued a final rule amending the regulations governing consultation under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in order to codify the practice of using surrogates to express the amount of extent of anticipated take in an incidental take statement issued concomitant with a biological opinion.  The final rule also provides that consultations on programmatic actions that would not result in incidental take without specific future actions will not be ...

On May 6, 2015, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on several Endangered Species Act (ESA) reform bills, including at least three that are similar to bills introduced in 2014 in the House of Representatives.  The bills that were discussed include the following:

  • S.112 – Entitled the Common Sense in Species Protection Act of 2015, the bill would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider short-term economic costs when protecting critical habitat for endangered species.
  • S.292 – Entitled the 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency ...
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In a landmark executive order (pdf) issued on April 1, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown mandated a 25 percent water cutback for urban residents to address the state’s historic drought. Gov. Brown directed the State Water Resources Control Board to impose restrictions to achieve a statewide 25% reduction in potable urban water usage … as compared to the amount used in 2013. Local agencies may decide how to get customers to reduce consumption, with higher rates being a likely option. The state intends to impose penalties on local agencies that fail to comply with the water restriction ...

On March 26, 2015, House of Representatives Republican Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) introduced a bill (H.R. 1667) to amend Section 4(b) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to require the Secretary of Interior to make publicly available on the Internet the best scientific and commercial data available that are the basis for reach regulation, including each proposed regulation for listing decisions regarding endangered or threatened status for wildlife and plant species.  H.R. 1667 does not require the Secretary of the Interior to post information that is prohibited from disclosure ...

On July 29, 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Endangered Species Act (ESA) reform legislation introduced by members of the House Natural Resources Committee. As previously reported, the legislation consists of four bills seeking to amend the ESA by, among other things, requiring federal agencies to release to the public all data used to make its listing decisions, disclosing the amount of federal funds used in ESA-related lawsuits, and requiring that the best scientific and commercial data available include information provided by state, tribal, and county ...

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) recently announced a proposed policy establishing credits for voluntary prelisting conservation actions for imperiled species. The policy is intended to establish an additional measure for encouraging and awarding voluntary actions to protect species that may be listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The new policy would apply in two possible situations. For non-federal actions that may harm listed species and require a take permit under section 10 of the ESA, the policy would credit actions taken ...

After a heated markup hearing on Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee voted to send four bills that would amend the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. All four bills were sponsored by Republican representatives, and the Committee voted almost exclusively upon partisan lines, with Republicans voting for and Democrats voting against sending the bills to the full House. One Democrat, Representative Jim Costa (D-Calif.), voted in support of H.R. 4315, voicing his opinion that [i]t’s past time for targeted reforms to the ...

The House Natural Resources Committee has scheduled a full Committee markup of four bills intended to bring additional transparency to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The markup, which involves committee debates, amendments, and rewrites of the proposed legislation, is scheduled for this Wednesday, April 30, 2014. The Committee will be reviewing four ESA reform bills introduced last month. As we reported here, the bills would amend the ESA as follows:


H.R. 4315 (21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act) – Introduced by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash); the bill would ...

Earlier this week, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to discuss Endangered Species Act (ESA) reform. The hearing focused on four bills that seek to require data and spending transparency under the ESA.

As previously reported, an ESA Congressional working group released a final report stating that the ESA is not working. The proposed bills are a result of that final report. Despite a general agreement that the 40-year old ESA should be updated, the hearing displayed the divide between Republicans and Democrats over how to do so.

One of the bills discussed at the ...

Republican Congressman Chris Stewart (UT) recently introduced a bill (pdf) that would amend the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to require federal wildlife agencies to include the number of species found on state, tribal, and private lands in its official count when determining whether a species should be protected under the ESA.  Currently, the ESA does not include a specific requirement regarding how to account for a species’ population.  Rather, federal agencies are required to use the best scientific and commercial data available when determining whether a species is ...

Members of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Congressional Working Group recently released a final report (pdf) asserting that the ESA is not working and providing four recommendations for improvement.

The report is the result of an eight-month effort led by Republican Representatives Doc Hastings (WA) and Cynthia Lummis (WY) to examine the ESA. The group received input from hundreds of individuals on how the ESA is currently being implemented, and whether it could be updated to be more effective. The report concludes that [a]fter more than 40 years, sensible, targeted reforms ...

December 28, 2013 marked the 40th birthday of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 28, 1973. According to Sally Jewell, the Secretary of the Interior: This landmark law has helped to stop the slide toward extinction of hundreds of species. Along the way, we have strengthened partnerships among states, tribes, local communities, private landowners and other stakeholders to find conservation solutions that work for both listed species and economic development. Supporters of the Act credit it for bringing several ...

Last week, the House Natural Resources Committee held its fifth oversight hearing on the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Entitled ESA Decisions by Closed-Door Settlement: Short-Changing Science, Transparency, Private Property, and State & Local Economies, the hearing included over a dozen Republican witnesses, with only three Democrats.


At the hearing, critics of the ESA urged reform to ensure that the statute’s focus is on recovering species and science, rather than litigation. Referencing the landmark 2011 settlement between Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the ...

On Thursday, December 12, 2013, the House Natural Resources Committee (Committee) will hold a full committee oversight hearing (pdf) titled ESA Decisions by Closed-Door Settlement: Short-Changing Science, Transparency, Private Property, and State & Local Economies. This hearing is part of a series of hearings announced by the Committee to review the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and conduct an assessment of the law’s strengths and weaknesses.

As we previously reported, in 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) developed a six-year work plan that would allow it to ...

 The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today issued (pdf) a draft Oregon Greater Sage-Grouse Land Use Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement (LUP Amendment/EIS) for the Oregon Sub-Region.  Once finalized, the LUP Amendment/EIS will cover over 10 million acres of sage-grouse habitat in the species’ Oregon range.

The draft LUP Amendment/EIS is one of fifteen separate planning efforts being undertaken as part of the National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy.  As we previously reported, BLM has already issued the draft LUP Amendment/EIS for the Nevada and Northeast ...

On November 1, 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), as lead agency, and the U.S. Forest Service (Service), as cooperating agency, issued the Nevada and Northeast California Greater Sage-Grouse Draft Land Use Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  The EIS evaluates six alternatives for land use plan management amendments (LUPA) focusing on conservation measures covering approximately 17.7 million acres of land administered by BLM and the Service in Nevada and northeast California spanning 16 Nevada counties, four California counties, and one ...

On September 4, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively, the Services) issued a proposal rule to amend the regulations governing consultation under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that would codify the practice of using surrogates to express the amount of extent of anticipated take in an incidental take statement issued concomitant with a biological opinion. The Services indicate that these changes are proposed to improve the flexibility and clarify the development of incidental take statements.

Section ...

On August 28, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a final rule (pdf) adopting an incremental approach to preparing an economic impact analysis required for a critical habitat designation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As a practical matter, this assessment will primarily consist of analyzing the cost of the time other federal agencies must take to consult with the wildlife agencies before authorizing activities within critical habitat. The analysis will largely ignore the underlying costs of listing a ...

On August 22, 2013, U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo) and the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Doc Hastings (R-Wash), announced that the Congressional Endangered Species Act (ESA) Working Group will be holding field hearings in Casper, Wyoming and Billings, Montana to find ways to improve the ESA for both species and people. The hearings, entitled State and Local Efforts to Protect Species, Jobs, Property and Multiple Use Amidst a New War on the West, will focus on efforts to preserve wildlife while maintaining jobs in agriculture, energy, and ...

Today, the House Natural Resources Committee is holding a full committee oversight hearing on species conservation efforts undertaken at on-the-ground-levels in an effort to compare those efforts with the effectiveness of Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuits. The hearing, entitled Defining Species Conservation Success: Tribal, State and Local Stewardship vs. Federal Courtroom Battles and Sue-and-Settle Practices, is the first in a series of hearings planned by the House to review the effectiveness of conservation efforts under the ESA.

Natural Resources Committee ...

House Republicans recently announced the creation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Working Group, which will be led by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Western Caucus Co-Chair Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).  The ESA Working Group will include a total of 13 republican members from a broad geographic range.  It will examine the ESA from many angles through a series of events, forums, and hearings that will invite discussion and input on ways in which the ESA is working well, and where it can be updated or improved to increase its effectiveness for both people ...

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for registering pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). As part of this process, the EPA must ensure that the use of the pesticide will not cause any unreasonable adverse effects on the environment, including species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and designated critical habitat for such species. Often, in order to comply with the ESA, the EPA must consult with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to ...

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently proposed merging its Southwest and Northwest administrative regions, which would result in a savings of $3 million annually in management costs. NMFS is a component of the Department of Commerce, and is responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act as it applies to marine species and their habitats.  Currently, the NMFS Southwest region manages California, and the Northwest region covers Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The Obama administration proposed the merger to improve coordination in areas where there ...

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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