Court of Appeals Holds Claims Against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Failure to Comply with the Endangered Species Act are Moot

On August 20, 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held (pdf) that appellants’ claims against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) for an alleged failure to take certain actions under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with respect to the straight-horned markhor (Capra falconeri jerdoni) were moot. 

In 1976, the Service classified the markhor as endangered under the ESA. The species’ primary habitat is the Torghar Hills along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. In response to the reduction of the markhor population, local tribal leaders formed the Society for Torghar Environmental Protection (STEP), and developed the Torghar Conservation Project, which sanctioned a limited number of markhor hunts and used the proceeds to benefit local tribes, thus encouraging community involvement in the species’ recovery.

In 1999, as a result of these efforts, the Service received a petition seeking reclassification of the species from endangered to threatened under the ESA. The Service issued a favorable initial finding, but took no further action regarding a final finding on the petition’s merit. In 2010, the Service received a second petition with the same request.

A group of safari clubs, hunters, international conservationists, and STEP brought suit against the Service regarding the Service’s failure to downlist the markhor and issue a final finding, and for the Service’s alleged unreasonable delay in processing applications to import parts of the species, or trophies, into the United States. The district court dismissed the claims as time-barred and petitioners appealed. 

Seven days after the reply brief in the appeal was filed, the Service issued a 12-month finding reclassifying the markhor and proposing to downlist the species. Moreover, during the pendency of the district court proceedings, the Service processed and denied all four applications to import markhor trophies. The Court of Appeals held that the Service’s issuance of the 12-month finding, and the denial of the applications, rendered the claims against the Service moot. 

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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