The Departments of Commerce and the Interior (Departments) have completed a proposed rule to define the term “habitat” as that term is used in the context of designating “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The proposed rule will soon be published in the Federal Register. Upon publication, the public will be given 30 days to submit comments. If finalized, the definition will be included in the joint regulations developed by the two Departments to implement section 4(a)(3)(A)(i) of the ESA. The ESA, itself, defines the term “critical habitat” but ...
On September 26, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado vacated and remanded in part the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) 2014 determination that listing the Rio Grande cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki virginalis) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was not warranted.
The Rio Grande cutthroat trout is native to high-altitude streams in southern Colorado and New Mexico. In 2008, the Service determined that the Rio Grande cutthroat trout warranted listing as an endangered or threatened species, although listing was precluded by other higher ...
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 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 ...
On December 28, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published a proposed rule to reclassify the Tobusch fishhook cactus (Sclerocactus brevihamatus ssp. tobuschii), downlisting the species from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service concluded that, while the Cactus is not in danger of extinction, it is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. This proposed rule and the accompanying 12-month finding were precipitated by the same ESA petition, citizen suit, and settlement agreement that compelled the ...
In a recent decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the dismissal of an environmental organization's Endangered Species Act (ESA) claim, concluding that the organization lacked standing because the informational injury alleged in the complaint could not, as a matter of law, arise until after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) issued a 12-month finding under the ESA, and the complaint expressly alleged that the Service had not issued such a finding. Friends of Animals v. Jewell, No. 15-5223 (D.C. Cir. July 15, 2016).
Under Section 4 ...
On April 4, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana vacated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) August 13, 2014 withdrawal of its proposed rule to list the distinct population segment of the North American wolverine (Withdrawal). The Withdrawal signaled a complete departure from the Service’s February 2013 proposed rule to list the wolverine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The court’s decision is the newest chapter in what has been a contentious and storied path to a listing decision for the North American ...
On February 29, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas rejected the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (Service) request to reinstate federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the lesser prairie chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus). Permian Basin Petrol. Ass 'n v. Dep 't of the Interior, No. 7:14-CV-50 (W.D. Tex. Feb. 29, 2016.). In September 2015, the court ruled on a challenge brought by the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and four New Mexico counties and vacated the final rule listing the lesser prairie chicken as threatened under the ESA. ...
On December 24, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) released its annual Candidate Notice of Review (CNOR) summarizing the status of species that qualify as candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The 2015 CNOR identifies all species designated as candidates and explains the changes to the candidate list from the 2014 CNOR. The Service assigns each candidate species a listing priority number (LPN) indicating the magnitude of the threat to a species’ continued existence (with one being the highest priority, and twelve being the lowest ...
On October 27, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) issued a memorandum to the Service Regional Directors announcing new guidance to streamline findings on petitions to list species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The stated purpose of the guidance is to streamline petition findings while ensuring [the Service] conducts an adequate review of petitions. The memorandum clarifies that this guidance is interim guidance until the Service’s amendments to its petition listing rules are final. Once finalized, the guidance will supersede previous guidance ...
During the last week of its fiscal year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) made several findings under section 4 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to meet its obligations under the 2011 listing settlement workplan. Below is a brief summary of these findings.
On September 29, 2015, the Service published a proposed rule to list four plant species from South Florida (specifically Miami-Dade and Monroe counties). These include the Big Pine partridge pea (Chamaecrista lineata var. keyensis), the wedge spurge (Chamaesyce deltoidea ssp. Serpyllum) the sand flax (Linum ...
On July 1, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published notice of its 90-day findings on petitions to list 31 species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Of these 31 species, all of which occur in the United States, the Service made positive 90-day findings on 21 petitions. A positive finding on a listing petition prompts a 12-month review of each species by the Service to determine whether listing is warranted. Of the remaining ten petitions, the Service concluded that nine petitions failed to provide substantial information demonstrating that listing action may be warranted. Most species addressed in the findings originated from a 53-species mega-petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in July 2012. If the Service finalizes its May 21, 2015 proposed rule to revise the regulations for species listing petitions, multi-species petitions such as the one filed by CBD will no longer be accepted by the Service.
Perhaps most notably, the Service’s publication included a denial of the petition to reclassify or downlist the gray wolf (Canis lupis) from its current status as endangered to threatened. Twenty-two petitioners (including the Humane Society of the United States, CBD, and the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians) signed the 2015 petition requesting reclassification of the gray wolf (excluding the Mexican wolf subspecies (Canis lupus baileyi) throughout the conterminous United States). The Service first concluded that the petition failed to provide substantial information indicating that the population proposed for reclassification may qualify as a distinct population segment. The Service acknowledged that this finding alone was enough to deny the petition for reclassification, but stated that the status of the gray wolf has been a source of significant controversy over the past few years, and due to the controversy, also concluded that the petition did not provide substantial information indicating that the gray wolf at large would qualify as threatened rather than 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.
In a closely watched and hotly contested challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to list the Polar Bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the final listing rule at 73 Fed. Reg. 28,212 (May 15, 2008) (pdf), the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a 116-page opinion (pdf) in which it upheld both the decision to list the bear as threatened, not endangered, and the Service's interpretation of "endangered species" as a species that is "on the brink of extinction."
The Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the delta smelt warrants uplisting (PDF) from "threatened" to endangered" under the Endangered Species Act. However, uplisting at this time is precluded by the need to address higher priority species. This "warranted but precluded" finding will not have any practical effect on existing protections for the delta smelt.
According to the Service, the delta smelt is native to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and subject to several threats, including predation, competition with invasive species, contaminants, and entrainment by water ...
The National Marine Fisheries Service ("NMFS") has issued a final determination (PDF) listing the southern Distinct Population Segment of Pacific eulachon (commonly referred to as "pacific smelt") as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Because the pacific smelt has only been listed as a "threatened species," the listing does not result in an immediate prohibition on pacific smelt harvesting. NMFS can, however, extend such a prohibition via regulation. And in the final determination NMFS stated that in the future it will be ...
For the third time in nine years, the Fish and Wildlife Service has revised the designation of critical habitat for the California red-legged frog. The new designation includes 1.6 million acres in 20 counties in California. 75 Fed. Reg. 12,816 (Mar. 17, 2010) (PDF). The revised designation increases the amount of critical habitat by over one million acres from the 2006 critical habitat designation (PDF). The revised designation represents a decrease of approximately 2.4 million acres from the 2001 designation (PDF). The Service revised the prior designations in response to ...
Western Watersheds Project is again challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service's listing determination for the greater sage grouse. On March 5, 2010, the Service determined that listing the greater sage grouse was warranted but precluded by higher priority species, thereby deeming the greater sage grouse a candidate species, which does not receive any protection under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"). This determination was a reversal of the Bush Administration's 2005 determination that listing was not warranted for the species. As discussed in a previous post, Western ...
After seeking a week's delay, the Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that the greater sage grouse warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act, but listing is currently precluded by higher priority species. The Service is placing the greater sage grouse on the candidate list for future action. Until then, the species would not receive any protection under the ESA.
In its finding (PDF), the Service stated there are several factors contributing to the destruction or modification of the greater sage grouse's habitat, including the increasing degradation and ...
Another lawsuit (PDF) has been filed to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to act on a listing petition - this time for the whitebark pine tree, which is distributed across high-elevation areas in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, and southwestern Canada. The Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned (PDF) the Service to list the whitebark pine in December 2008 claiming that climate change "poses one of the most significant threats to whitebark pine."
The whitebark pine listing petition is one of several recent petitions seeking protection ...
Reminiscent of the tale of endless litigation in Dickens' Bleak House, the Fish and Wildlife Service has reinstated (PDF) the 1993 proposed rule (PDF) to list the flat-tailed horned lizard as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act following more than a decade of litigation, including two decisions from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The flat-tailed horned lizard is found in the western Sonoran desert of California, Arizona and Mexico.
The reinstatement of the proposed rule is in response to Tuscon Herpetological Society v. Salazar (PDF)
Environmental groups have sued (PDF) the Fish and Wildlife Service to force the listing of the Sonoran desert tortoise in Arizona as a distinct population segment under the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit is the latest legal development that threatens to slow or block the national effort to promote the development of solar energy on federal lands in the Arizona desert. The listing of a related population of desert tortoise across the border in California has triggered significant limitations on solar projects in the Mojave Desert.
On August 28, 2009, the Fish and Wildlife Service ...
In a notice (PDF) published February 25, 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew its proposal to list the Southwestern Washington/Columbia River Distinct Population Segment ("DPS") of coastal cutthroat trout for the second time.
The Service was required to revisit the issue after the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision (PDF) ordering the Service to reconsider whether the DPS of the coastal cutthroat trout warranted listing. After considering the issue for a second time, however, the Service again determined that the ...
As discussed in Bloomberg Business Week, the oil and gas industry, ranchers and others are eagerly anticipating the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision whether to list the greater sage grouse. In January 2005, the Service made a finding (PDF) that listing the greater sage grouse was not warranted. The Western Watershed Project sued the Service in federal district in Idaho, and in December 2007, the court reversed (PDF) the Service's listing decision.
In May 2009, Western Watershed Project and the Service then stipulated (PDF) that the Service would submit a new 12-month finding on ...
The Center for Biological Diversity filed four lawsuits in federal district courts in Washington, D.C., Sacramento, California, Portland, Oregon, and Tucson, Arizona over petitions for species listings filed over the past decade. The lawsuits against the Obama administration are aimed at forcing the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a finding on the listing petitions.
The Endangered Species Act requires the Service to make a "12-month finding" on listing petitions within one year of receipt. The 12-month finding may consist of one of three determinations:
- listing is ...
On February 10, 2010, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced its determination that a Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petition (PDF 6 MB) to list 83 species of stony coral as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act presents substantial information indicating that [listing] might be warranted for 82 of the 83 subject species. See 90-Day Finding (PDF).
If a threatened listing is warranted, NMFS may use its authority under Section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act to impose regulatory requirements necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of the species, including the prohibition of take of any such species without an incidental take permit.
If any of the species are listed as endangered, they automatically benefit from the Act’s most potent protections: Under Section 7, federal agencies must insure that actions they fund, authorize, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of its designated critical habitat. Under Section 9, persons are prohibited from taking or harming any endangered coral without first obtaining an incidental take statement under section 7 or an incidental take permit under Section 10. Furthermore, citizens may bring suit in federal court to enforce the provisions of the Endangered Species Act.
Thus, listing of coral could enable environmental groups to sue major emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) under the theory that their emissions cause the unpermitted take of, or harm to species imperiled by climate change.
Listing of this tiny relative of the rabbit . . . could have been a very big deal . . . . If a species is listed as threatened or endangered specifically due to climate change, then any private industry or federal government action that may affect climate change . . . could be required to comply with the stringent regulatory requirements (and attendant litigation risks) of the Endangered Species Act.
On February 11, 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service reported that it will not be designating critical habitat for the Florida panther. This announcement comes in response to petitions submitted to the Service by several environmental groups including the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity requesting designation of 3 million acres of land in south Florida as critical panther habitat.
The Service determined that critical habitat designation is not in the best interest of the Florida panther at this time but retained discretion to designate habitat at a later time ...
On January 13, 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to revise its 2005 designation of critical habitat for the bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus), a species that has been protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since it was listed as threatened in 1999.
The proposed rule (PDF) represents a dramatic increase in critical habitat from that currently designated under the 2005 rule. The rule as revised includes approximately 22,679 miles of streams and 533,426 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Nevada, which is a 79% increase in ...
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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