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 announced that the effective date for the interagency consultation ...
On August 6, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a 90-day finding that listing the Yellowstone Park bison (Bison bison bison) under the Endangered Species Act is not warranted. FWS also found that listing the Mojave poppy bee (Perdita meconis) and revising the critical habitat designation for the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus grahamensis) may be warranted ...
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) and a group of landowners recently settled long-running litigation regarding the Service’s designation of approximately 1,500 acres of private land as critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog (Rana sevosa). The Service designated the private land in Louisiana as critical habitat in 2012. Weyerhaeuser Co. and local landowners sued the Service, arguing that designation of the private land where the frog could not currently survive was overreach ...
On May 22, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a proposal to list two intriguing North Carolina aquatic species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The FWS was spurred to act in part by a 2010 petition and subsequent litigation from environmental organizations to list over 400 aquatic species found in the southeastern United States. The two species the agency deems as needing protection in this proposed rule are the Carolina madtom (Noturus furiosus), a poisonous catfish, and the Neuse River waterdog (Necturus lewisi), a freshwater salamander.
The Carolina ...
In an article published online this week in BioScience, the American Institute of Biological Sciences' scholarly journal, Drs. Dennis Murphy and Paul Weiland contribute to the literature on independent scientific review, focusing on the review of federal agency determinations under the Endangered Species Act. They describe the types of decisions that can benefit from independent scientific review. They also describe past shortcomings in undertaking such reviews, relying on specific examples from past reviews. Identification of such shortcomings feeds into the principal ...
On January 31, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced plans to amend up to 182 Endangered Species Act (ESA) recovery plans, which potentially cover over 305 animal and plant species, over the next year. These amendments will revise each recovery plan to include quantitative recovery criteria as part of the Department of the Interior’s Agency Priority Performance Goals. USFWS kicked off this 12-month push by releasing a notice of availability of 26 draft recovery plan amendments ...
On November 4, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina granted summary judgment in favor of conservation organizations Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and Animal Welfare Institute in a case challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) administration of the recovery program for endangered red wolves (Canis rufus).
FWS began reintroducing red wolves in North Carolina in 1987. Red wolves were designated as a non-essential experimental population under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As such, FWS may only ...
Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in California Sea Urchin Commission v. Combs (Combs), Docket No. 17-1636, an appeal from a Ninth Circuit decision regarding endangered Southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) and deference to the decisions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). As we reported here last month, the case was seen as a potential vehicle for the Court to take up the broader issue of Chevron deference, the legal doctrine that requires courts to defer to an agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous statute so long as that interpretation is ...
As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares for its upcoming October 2018 term, one petition concerning an endangered sea otter relocation program is attracting a lot of attention as a potential vehicle for the Court to consider the broader issue of Chevron deference, the legal doctrine that requires courts to defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute. The petition has also created odd bedfellows, as the Department of Justice under the Trump Administration finds itself arguing alongside several national environmental non-profit organizations that the ...
On July 9, 2018, President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to replace retiring Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court. While much of the public discourse about Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination has focused on hot-button issues like abortion and the Second Amendment, the addition of Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court could also have significant effects on a range of environmental laws and regulations, including the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
One of Judge Kavanaugh’s most well-known environmental opinions is from Otay Mesa Property, L.P. v. Interior, 646 F.3d 914 (D.C. Cir. 2011). In Otay Mesa, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) had observed four endangered San Diego fairy shrimp (Branchinecta sandiegonensis) in one location on a dirt road on the plaintiffs’ 143-acre property. Based on that single observation, the Service designated the plaintiffs’ property as occupied habitat for purposes of its critical habitat designation under the ESA. The D.C. Circuit held that substantial evidence did not support the Service’s designation of critical habitat for the San Diego fairy shrimp. Judge Kavanaugh explained that while the Service may protect areas outside of the geographic range occupied by an ESA-protected species as essential to the species’ conservation, it had instead asserted that this was occupied habitat for the fairy shrimp. Judge Kavanaugh found that a single observation of a species did not provide sufficient evidence that the area was occupied habitat. And while the Service was under no requirement to continue looking for the endangered shrimp, Judge Kavanaugh noted that the lack of such an obligation is not the same as an authorization to act without data to support its conclusions. 646 F.3d at 918. This opinion suggests that Judge Kavanaugh is likely to narrowly interpret the provisions of the ESA.
Similarly, Justice Kavanaugh’s position on Chevron deference may have wide ranging consequences for environmental statutes, including the ESA.
Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) finalized its reclassification of the Tobusch fishhook cactus (Sclerocactus brevihamatus ssp. tobuschii), a small cactus found in Texas, downlisting the species from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
As previously reported here, the Service concluded that downlisting the cactus was warranted given an increase in the number of observed individuals. While only 200 cactuses were known when the species was listed as endangered in 1979, the Service now estimates there are more than 3,300 ...
On April 2, 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) proposed downlisting the Hawaiian goose (Branta sandvicensis), locally known as the nene, from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service also proposed adopting a special rule pursuant to ESA section 4(d), known as a section 4(d) rule, allowing incidental take of nene for particular conservation and law enforcement functions.
The nene was federally listed as endangered in 1967, after the population fell below 30 individuals on Hawaii’s Big Island. The Service instituted a ...
On February 12, 2018, in Alaska Oil & Gas Association v. National Marine Fisheries Service, Case No. 16-35380, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a 2016 decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska that vacated a final regulation listing the Arctic subspecies of ringed seal (Phoca hispida hispida, Phoca hispida ochotensis, and Phoca hispida botanica) as threatened and the Ladoga subspecies of ringed seal (Phoca hispida ladogensis) as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531 et seq. (ESA).
On September 20, 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed three separate species under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"). USFWS listed the Sonoyta mud turtle (Kinosternon sonoriense) as endangered, and the 'I'iwi (Drepanis coccinea) and pearl darter (Percina aurora) as threatened species under the ESA. Despite listing all three species, the USFWS deferred designating critical habitat for the three species. The three listing decisions, all of which were compelled by settlements that the USFWS entered into during the Obama administration, are summarized below.
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 ...
The Candidate Notice of Review is an annual appraisal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) of plants and animals that are candidates for Endangered Species Act protection. A "candidate" species is a species for which there is sufficient information to support a proposal for listing as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, but the formal listing determination is delayed because of higher priority listing actions for other species. The Candidate Notice of Review, among other things, "summarizes the status and threats ...
Last week, Jeremy Jacobs posted an interesting article about the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Horne v. Dep't of Agriculture, No. 14-275 (U.S. Jun. 22, 2015), and its potential application to Endangered Species Act (ESA) jurisprudence. (See Raisin ruling seen as lifeline for endangered species, published by Greenwire on August 19, 2015). In Horne, the U.S. Supreme Court held, in an 8-1 decision, that the forced appropriation of a portion of a farmer's raisin crop qualified as a "clear physical taking" requiring compensation under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S ...
In a decision issued earlier this week, a U.S. District Court rejected the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (Service) interpretation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), finding that its interpretation of the critical habitat designation requirement constituted an impermissible construction of the statute. Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Kelly, Case No. 1:13-cv-00427 (D. Idaho Mar. 23, 2015) (pdf). Specifically, the court found that, contrary to the Service's longstanding interpretation, the ESA requires critical habitat to be designated in a manner ...
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 & ...
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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