Late last month, the United States District Court for the District of Idaho denied preliminary injunctive relief in an Endangered Species Act case against the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Forest Service, even though it found that "the required rational connection was not made in the [section] 7(d) determination," because declarations submitted to the court after-the-fact provided a rational connection. See Western Watersheds Project v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, No. 4:13-cv-176 (June 26, 2013) (pdf).
In 2010, FWS issued a biological opinion and incidental ...
In a published opinion (pdf) affirming the denial of preliminary injunctive relief, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that "there is no statutory mandate to consider cumulative effects during informal consultation." Conservation Congress v. U.S. Forest Serv., No. 12-16452 (June 13, 2012).
In order to address issues in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service proposed the Mudflow Vegetation Management Project (Project). The Project included a variety of activities, including thinning, sanitation, and regeneration. Because the ...
On October 22, 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) abused its discretion when it issued a biological opinion (BiOp) and incidental take statement for the Ruby Pipeline Project, and ordered the Service to prepare a revised BiOp. Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Bureau of Land Management, No. 10-72356 (9th Cir. Oct. 22, 2012) (pdf).
Specifically, the court held that the Service's "no jeopardy" and "no adverse modification" to critical habitat determinations relied on protective measures that are not ...
On June 1, 2012, a sharply divided Ninth Circuit sitting en banc filed an opinion in Karuk Tribe of California v. U.S. Forest Service, No. 05-16801 (June 1, 2012) (pdf) holding that U.S. Forest Service "approvals" of notices of intent (NOIs) to undertake suction dredge mining are discretionary agency actions that may affect listed coho salmon designated critical habitat in the Klamath National Forest, thus triggering a duty to consult under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The en banc opinion reverses both the district court and a prior panel opinion in which a divided three-judge panel held that the Forest Service was not required to consult because the "approvals" at issue are tantamount to decisions not to require "plans of operations" for proposed dredging, and are therefore agency inaction, not agency action. Judge William A. Fletcher wrote the dissenting opinion in last year's decision, but he wrote for the 7-4 majority of the en banc court.
In a recent decision out of Oregon, a United States District Court found that plaintiffs do not need to prove a likelihood of future take to prevail on a Section 9 claim. Stout v. U.S. Forest Service, ECF No. 112 (D. Or. April 24, 2012). Plaintiffs, ranchers who had been partially enjoined from grazing on certain banks because of potential impacts to threatened Middle Columbia River steelhead (MCR steelhead), filed an action against the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service alleging, among other claims, that the Forest Service had taken steelhead ...
On March 8, 2012, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California entered judgment in Coalition for a Sustainable Delta and Kern County Water Agency v. Federal Emergency Management Agency, et al., No 1:09-cv-02024 (E.D. Cal.) based on a settlement agreement in which FEMA agreed to request consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act regarding the impacts of its implementation of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) on threatened and endangered ...
On October 17, 2011, U.S. District Judge Sullivan issued two opinions in the Polar Bear litigation previously blogged about here. In the first opinion (pdf), Judge Sullivan held that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by issuing a rule under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) regarding take of the threatened Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) without conducting an environmental assessment.
As previously reported here, the 4(d) rule for the polar bear sets forth those measures and prohibitions the Secretary of Interior deems necessary and advisable for the conservation the polar bear, but it has the effect of specifically prohibiting the federal government from using the polar bear's threatened status to regulate GHG emissions of activities that occur outside the polar bear’s range. Earlier this year, Judge Sullivan upheld the Service's definition of "endangered" and its decision to list the polar bear as threatened.
Until the Service completes its analysis of the 4(d) rule under NEPA, an interim 4(d) rule issued in May 2008 remains in place. Because the interim rule has the same effect as the final rule, the polar bear will continue to receive the same protections.
In the second opinion (pdf), Judge Sullivan held that the Service did not abuse its discretion when it determined that the polar bear is a "depleted" species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and therefore sport-hunted polar bear trophies are not eligible for importation.
The Court also held that the Service did not abuse its discretion when it refused to process applications to import sport-hunted trophy polar bears that were pending at the time the Service determined that the species is depleted. The Service stopped processing the applications because it determined that the applicants had not established that importing sport-hunted trophies would "enhance" the status of the polar bear by increasing the population or otherwise contributing to the recovery of the species. Thus, the applications do not qualify for an exception to the MMPA's general ban on importing sport-hunted trophies of depleted marine mammals.
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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