In a per curiam decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismissed the Center for Biological Diversity’s (CBD) challenge to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) process for assessing the status of species to inform regulatory decisions with respect to those species. That process, referred to as species status assessment (SSA), is akin to a biological risk assessment for the target species. It has been developed by the Service over the past several years and provides a more structured approach to assessing listing, delisting, uplisting, and ...
On May 17, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) rule requiring that affected states receive a 30-day notice of an intent to file a petition to list a species as endangered or threatened is inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). See Friends of Animals v. Haaland, Case No. 20-35318 (9th Cir. May 17, 2021); 50 C.F.R. § 424.14(b).
In reaching its decision, the Ninth Circuit reviewed the Service’s rulemaking under a two-step framework established by the Supreme Court in the landmark case Chevron U. S ...
On May 5, 2021, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) published its updated collision risk model (“CRM”) for bald and golden eagles at wind energy facilities. The CRM is a complex Bayesian model the USFWS has endorsed to predict eagle fatalities at wind energy facilities seeking eagle incidental take authorization under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (“BGEPA”). The USFWS previously published the proposed updates to CRM for public comment on two occasions, seeking input on three alternatives: (1) Use updated species-specific model inputs and use the ...
On May 7, 2021, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), as many anticipated, published a proposed rule to revoke a Trump Administration rule impacting the scope of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The Trump Administration rule was finalized on January 7, 2021 and became effective March 8, 2021. It clarified that the MBTA’s prohibition against the take of migratory birds did not extend to death or injury of migratory birds that results from, but is not the purpose of, an action (also known as incidental take). Prior to the Trump Administration Rule, USFWS had, for decades ...
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.
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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