On June 4, 2021, the Biden administration announced its intent to rescind or revise several implementing regulations for the Endangered Species Act (ESA) finalized under the prior administration. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has not yet published these proposed rules in the Federal Register, nor has the Service provided the exact dates when it intends to publish the proposed rules.
In its announcement, the Service indicates its intent to rescind regulations governing how the Service conducts critical habitat exclusion analyses under ESA section 4(b)(2) and how ...
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 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 ...
In the Fall 2017 publication of the Unified Agenda of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the Department of the Interior announced its intent to revise the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regulations governing interagency cooperation and exceptions to the conservation of endangered and threatened species of fish, wildlife, and plants. In a separate announcement in the same publication, the Department of the Interior stated that it intends to revise regulations governing the listing of endangered and threatened species and the designation of critical ...
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 August 13, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit laid to rest litigation that threatened to profoundly affect water and power supplies for 25 million people throughout the arid Southwest.
In Grand Canyon Trust v. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (pdf), the Ninth Circuit held that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) is not required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) every year when it prepares an annual operating plan for the Glen Canyon Dam.
The court held ...
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 August 19, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California denied in part and granted in part FEMA's motion for partial summary judgment (PDF) in the latest in a series of lawsuits filed against FEMA for failing to consult under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) regarding the impacts of its administration of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) on listed species that depend upon floodplains.
In their first claim for relief in Coalition for a Sustainable Delta v. Federal Emergency Management Agency, No. 09-2024 (E.D. Cal.), the plaintiffs ...
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.
After Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made major changes to its nationwide levee policies, including new standards in 2009 banning vegetation on or within 15 feet of levees. Earlier this year, the agency adopted a variance policy requiring trees and bushes to be removed by September 30 unless a new variance was granted, forcing levee owners and operators to scramble to meet the deadline. According to a recent notice of intent to sue letter issued by the Center for Biological Diversity, this new variance deadline may be impossible to meet for many levee owners or ...
On May 18, 2010, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California issued findings of fact and conclusions of law (PDF) regarding Plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction in The Consolidated Salmonid Cases, No. 09-1053 (E.D. Cal. May 18, 2010). The matter consists of seven consolidated actions that all challenge the June 2009 biological opinion, jeopardy and adverse modification determinations, and reasonable and prudent alternative (RPA) for continued operation of the Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The CVP and SWP provide water for approximately 25 million Californians.
Plaintiffs challenged the implementation of two components of the RPA developed by NMFS, RPA Actions IV.2.1 and IV.2.3. Action IV.2.1 imposes minimum San Joaquin River inflow requirements in conjunction with maximum permissible exports (i.e., a 4 to 1 ratio between inflow and exports) and is effective April 1 to May 31. Action IV.2.3 limits Old and Middle river flows to no more negative than -2,500 to -5,000 cfs, depending on juvenile entrainment levels, and is effective January 1 to June 15 or until a temperature trigger is hit at Mossdale (a location on the San Joaquin River).
The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected Endangered Species Act (ESA) challenges to the approval of a rail line serving a limestone quarry in Texas. The court upheld the determination by the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to limit the effects analysis in the biological opinion to the impacts of the first phase of the multi-phase quarry project. The court concluded that the subsequent phases were not an interrleated action, a cumulative effect or an indirect effect of the approval of the rail line under the ESA.
In Medina County Environmental Action Association v. Surface Transportation Board, the STB granted an exemption allowing a railroad company to construct and operate a rail line and loading loop to service a proposed limestone quarry in Texas. The proposed rail line was part of Phase One in the development of a 1,760-acre tract. Phase One consisted of the proposed rail line and development of 640 acres as a quarry. There were no specific plans for further development, although it was indicated that the rest of the tract might be quarried in additional phases over the next 50 years, depending on market demand.
An environmental group challenged the exemption alleging that the STB and the Service failed to comply with their obligations under section 7 of the ESA because they did not assess the potential for jeopardy posed by the entire 1,760-acre tract on the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and listed karst invertebrates and only assessed the potential effects for Phase One. The plaintiff made three arguments: (1) the entire proposed development is an interrelated action to the proposed rail (2) the entire proposed development should have been evaluated as a cumulative effect of the proposed rail; (3) the entire proposed development is an indirect effect of the proposed rail. The court rejected all three claims.
In the latest round of litigation over endangered species impacts of water management in Southern Florida, a district court invalidated an incidental take statement applicable to actions of the Corps of Engineers to restore the Everglades. The decision in Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida v. United States (PDF), is the latest in a line of decisions concluding that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to provide a sufficient justification for the use habitat conditions in lieu of a numerical cap on incidental take. The decision is an example of the willingness of the federal ...
On March 10, 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity submitted a letter (PDF) on behalf of 50 conservation groups encouraging the Secretaries of the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce to adopt a radical new definition of adverse modification of critical habitat. The proposed definition differs in two ways from the current regulatory definition; one uncontroversial and benign, while the other is likely to be controversial and far-reaching.
Currently, adverse modification is defined by regulation as a direct or indirect alteration that appreciably diminishes the value of critical habitat for both the survival and recovery of a listed species. The groups would have adverse modification of critical habitat be defined as a direct or indirect alteration that appreciably diminishes the value of any portion of any area of designated critical habitat for either the survival or recovery of a listed species, with appreciably diminishes defined as any action that would destroy or degrade any primary constituent element such that the habitat would be, measurably or perceptibly, of less value to the species. As explained below, the change to either . . . or would be benign; but the proposed addition of any portion of any area could dramatically alter the way the Services administer Section 7 of the ESA.
Pursuant to a request by Congress and the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Research Council recently held a number of hearings in Davis, California on the current crisis in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. These hearings took place over a four-day stretch, running from January 24 to January 28, frequently addressing a handful of different Delta related issues each day.
The National Research Council is an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, a private non-profit institution that was created in 1863 by President Lincoln. The primary role of the National Research ...
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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