Posts tagged U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Service to Further Evaluate Listing of Wolf and Mussel, But Not Delisting of Warbler

Earlier this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published a Federal Register notice addressing 90-day findings for three separate species.  With the notice, two species moved one step closer to being listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In July of 2020, the Service received a petition to list the Alexander Archipelago wolf (Canis lupus ligoni) as an endangered or threatened species.  The wolf’s current range includes Alaska and Canada.  The Service concluded in the 90-day finding that listing may be warranted due to potential threats associated ...

USFWS Publishes Revised Economic Analyses for MBTA Incidental Take Proposed Rule

This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) announced the availability of two revised economic analysis documents related to the agency’s proposed rule concerning incidental take under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (“MBTA”).  The documents evaluate the potential for the proposed rule to impact small entities, including businesses, governmental jurisdictions, and other organizations.

When federal agencies issue a new proposed or final rule, they are required under the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980 (“RFA”) to evaluate the potential effects ...

On July 13, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published a proposed rule to designate critical habitat for the pearl darter (Percina aurora) under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Listed as a threatened species under the ESA in September 2017, the pearl darter is a small, snub-nosed fish whose historical range includes Mississippi and Louisiana.  The proposed critical habitat designation for the pearl darter includes a total of approximately 517 river miles along the Pascagoula River and Pearl River basins, which run across multiple counties in ...

On July 7, 2021, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register announcing the agency’s finding that the razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus) no longer warrants listing as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). As such, FWS has proposed to downlist the species to threatened status.

The razorback sucker is a freshwater fish measuring up to 3 feet long that gets its name from the bony ridge behind its head. The species is commonly found throughout the reservoirs, floodplains, and backwaters of the Colorado ...

Congress Urges Action on Monarch

On June 29, 2021, fourteen members of Congress delivered a letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to use its authority to list the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on an emergency basis under section 4 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The letter, which garnered only Democratic support, notes that the population of western monarchs has sunk to under 2,000 individuals and states that immediate action is necessary to prevent extinction of the species.

Section 4 of the ESA authorizes the Service to immediately place a ...

SCOTUS Won’t Wade Into the Chicken Coop

On June 7, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) agreed with the Department of Justice and declined to hear a case brought by the Kansas Natural Resource Coalition (Coalition) challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) failure to submit the Policy for the Evaluation of Conservation Efforts (PECE) Policy to Congress under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).  The case, which represents a unique intersection between the lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) (LEPC), the Service’s PECE Policy, and the CRA, appears to foreclose the ability ...

ESA Implementation Thrown Into Flux

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 ...

Biden Administration Asks Supreme Court to Reject Challenge to ESA Rule

On May 14, 2021, the Department of Justice filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that the Court should not hear the case of Kansas Natural Resource Coalition v. Department of Interior (“KNRC”). KNRC is a challenge to a rule interpreting the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) that was jointly issued by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) (collectively, the “Services”) in 2003: The “Policy for Evaluation of Conservation Efforts When Making Listing Decisions,”(68 Fed. Reg. 15,100 ...

D.C. Circuit Shuts Down Challenge to Species Status Assessments

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 ...

The Chicken Saga Continues

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has announced the next chapter in the lesser prairie chicken’s (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) (LEPC) tumultuous listing history. On May 26, 2021 the USFWS announced that it will propose a rule to establish a Northern distinct population segment (DPS) and a Southern DPS of the LEPC.  USFWS has proposed to list the Southern DPS – consisting of portions of New Mexico and Texas – as endangered. If finalized, the ESA take prohibition would apply across the Southern DPS without exception. The USFWS proposes to list the Northern DPS ...

USFWS Updates Eagle Fatality Model for Wind Facilities

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 ...

Service Finds Salamanders Do Not Warrant Endangered Species Act Protection

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) recently announced its finding that three salamander species do not warrant listing as endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service’s announcement follows a court-approved settlement agreement in which the Service agreed to make a 12-month finding for the Shasta salamander (Hydromantes shastae), Samwel salamander (H. samweli), and Wintu salamander (H. wintu). The finding comes despite concerns from some environmental groups that a proposed project to raise the height of the Shasta Dam and ...

The Role of Conceptual Ecological Models in Implementing the Federal Endangered Species Act

This week, I published a post on the Center for California Water Resources Policy and Management’s DeltaCurrents blog discussing the role of conceptual ecological models in implementing the federal Endangered Species Act. Conceptual ecological models are a specialized subset of conceptual models generally intended to describe the environmental factors that affect an ecological community, a species, or a population. Conceptual ecological models are useful in a variety of contexts ranging from development of research proposals and monitoring schemes, to regulatory ...

Is The God Squad Heading Toward Extinction?

In the 1978 amendments to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Congress created the Endangered Species Act Committee, also know as the “God Squad.” The God Squad is composed of mostly Cabinet-level officials and has the authority to exempt a federal agency action from the ESA’s prohibition on taking actions that could lead to the extinction of an endangered or threatened species. While the God Squad has been around for more than four decades, its awesome powers have rarely been invoked. Perhaps due to scientific advances, it is possible that the God Squad may itself be heading for ...

Biden Administration to Review Species Rules and Related Frameworks

On January 20, 2021, President Biden announced his administration will review regulatory actions taken between January 20, 2017 and January 20, 2021 in accordance with an Executive Order titled “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis” (EO). Among the agency actions to be reviewed under the EO are a number of regulations and policies finalized by the Trump Administration involving Endangered Species Act (ESA), Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), and other related statutes.

An initial pre-publication announcement ...

Trump Administration Finalizes Migratory Bird Rule

On January 7, 2021, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) published a final rule limiting the scope of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA)’s prohibition on the take of migratory birds. The new rule excludes incidental take, meaning bird mortality that results from an action but is not the purpose of that action. 

This rule is the culmination of Trump Administration efforts that began shortly after it took office to reverse prior agency policy and limit the scope of the MBTA. The rule does not take effect until February 6, 2021 and so may be suspended by the incoming Biden ...

Template for Mitigation Banking Instruments in California to be Revised

On December 3, 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other agencies (collectively, “Agencies”) announced an update to the standard Bank Enabling Instrument (“BEI”) template for use in connection with the development of mitigation banks that will be located in or propose service areas within the State of California.

BEI templates are used in connection with the approval of mitigation banks the purpose of which is to provide mitigation for projects that have received authorizations from ...

Monarch Placed on Candidate List

On December 17, 2020 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) published its 12-month finding that listing of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus plexippus) is warranted but precluded by higher priority actions. With this finding, the monarch becomes a candidate species with a listing priority designation of “8.”  An “8” indicates the magnitude of threats to the monarch is moderate to low and those threats are imminent. In the announcement, the USFWS notes that 161 other species are currently prioritized above the monarch for listing consideration. Each year ...

Federal Wildlife Agencies Release Final Rule Defining “Habitat”

On December 15, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively, the agencies) released a pre-publication version of a final rule providing a definition of “habitat” for the purpose of informing designation of areas as “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act.  The agencies released a proposed rule defining habitat in August 2020 in response to a unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 overturning a lower court decision that upheld a controversial determination of critical habitat by the U.S. Fish and ...

Tiger King Lawsuits Take 2

On November 19, 2020, in a call back to its criminal lawsuit against Joseph “Tiger King” Maldonado-Passage, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against the husband and wife team who took over the wildlife park that was front and center throughout the Netflix hit series Tiger King – Jeffrey and Lauren Lowe. Unlike the prior lawsuit against Mr. Maldonado-Passage (previously covered here), the lawsuit against the Lowes does not seek jail time, nor does it seek damages. Instead, the lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma to (1 ...

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service ("Service") recently released a pre-publication version of its final rule to reclassify the American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  The final rule will also include 4(d) rule provisions that specify when the ESA section 9 take prohibitions will apply to the beetle.

The American burying beetle, which gets its name from its tendency to burrow under vegetation or into soil during the daytime and throughout the winter hibernation season, is the largest ...

Kangaroo Rat: From Endangered to Threatened

On August 19, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published a proposed rule that would remove the Stephens’ kangaroo rat (Dipodomys stephensi) from the federal list of Endangered Species. The proposed rule would, instead, list the kangaroo rat as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and would provide a rule under ESA section 4(d) to provide for conservation of the kangaroo rat.

The Stephens’ kangaroo rat was originally listed as an endangered species in 1988. It is a small, nocturnal mammal, with external cheek pouches, large hind legs, a long tail ...

California Fish and Game Commission Defers Decision on Joshua Tree

The California Fish and Game Commission deferred the decision on whether to make the western Joshua tree a candidate for listing to a special meeting in September 2020. In a hearing on August 20, 2020, the Commission heard a wide variety of perspectives on whether listing the species may be warranted. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 90-day evaluation recommended a “may be warranted” finding but at the hearing Director Bonham indicated he was open to deferring the decision in order to work with the stakeholders ... 

Federal Wildlife Agencies Propose Rule to Define Habitat

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 ...

Trump Executive Order: Environmental Streamlining or Political Quagmire?

On June 4, 2020, President Trump signed an executive order to provide federal agencies the foundation to speed up environmental permitting in the wake of COVID-19. While the move was lauded by many, others view the executive order as an impermissible use of executive power to circumvent environmental protections. The Center for Biological Diversity has already announced its plans to pursue litigation challenging the EO, alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act. 

Executive Order 13927, “Accelerating the Nation’s Economic Recovery from the COVID-19 Emergency ...

Fishers Get ESA Protection in Southern Sierra

On May 15, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("Service") published a final rule in the Federal Register announcing the agency’s determination to list the Southern Sierra Nevada (SSN) Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of fisher (Pekania pennanti) as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The fisher is a small, carnivorous mammal in the mustelid (commonly referred to as weasel) family. The SSN DPS of fisher, which occurs in California, was recently determined by the Service to be a separate subpopulation of the West Coast DPS.

The Service first proposed to list ...

While section 9 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) generally prohibits the “taking” of an endangered species, under section 10 of the ESA the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) may issue a permit exempting an activity from the take prohibition if the take is for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or survival of an endangered species. Under the authority provided by section 10, the Service established the Captive Bred Wildlife permitting program (Program). The Program permits a registrant to export, import, deliver, receive, carry, sell, transport, and ship an endangered species if such activity is to enhance the propagation or survival of the species.

In the early part of this century the Phoenix Herpetological Society, Inc. (Society) applied to and was registered under the Program for certain species. Over the years the Society applied for various amendments to its registration. Some of these amendments were granted, and some were not.

In February 2018, the Society applied to amend its registration to include the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) ...

Tiger King Shines Light on an Endangered Species Act Quirk

The sweeping and rapid ascent to popularity of Netflix Inc.'s "Tiger King" documentary series has fueled new interest in two congressional bills that stalled in committee last year, and has drawn public attention to a quirk of the Endangered Species Act, or ESA.

I recently authored the article, "'Tiger King' Shines Light on an Endangered Species Act Quirk" for Law360. This piece examines ...

COVID-19 And Endangered Species Act Compliance

Many projects require federal incidental take authority due to impacts on species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). Depending upon the species, this federal take authority is obtained either from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) or National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”). These agencies provide take authority either through a Section 7 (federal consultation) incidental take statement or Section 10 (Habitat Conservation Plan) incidental take permit. These authorizations almost always require the permittee to undertake ...

Do Yellowstone Park Bison Deserve ESA Protection?

According to a handful of environmental groups, the answer is a definitive yes. And after the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (“FWS”) issued a 90-day finding concluding in the alternative, earlier this week three environmental groups decided to take FWS to court. The lawsuit was filed by the Buffalo Field Campaign, Friends of Animals, and Western Watersheds Project. According to the press release issued by one of the environmental groups, FWS “applied the wrong evidentiary standard, and disregarded evidence of factors that imperil the unique and distinct subpopulations of ...

USFWS Proposes to Codify Trump Administration Position on MBTA

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released a pre-publication version of its long-awaited update to regulations governing Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) implementation (Proposed Regulations). Significantly, the Proposed Regulations explicitly state that unintentional, non-purposeful, or “incidental” take of migratory birds is not prohibited by the MBTA’s “take” prohibition. USFWS has also published a pre-publication version of a notice of intent (NOI) to prepare an environmental impact statement pursuant to the National Environmental ...

Posted in Listing, Litigation
Court Remands Northern Long-eared Bat Listing Back to USFWS

Yesterday, in Center for Biological Diversity v. Everson​, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) decision to list the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentriodnalis) as threatened rather than endangered, and remanded the decision back to the agency.  The threatened listing will remain intact while USFWS undertakes a new listing decision.

In addition to remanding the threatened listing decision back to the USFWS, the court also vacated a portion of the USFWS’s and National Marine ...

Today, the U.S. Senate confirmed Aurelia Skipwith as the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) by a vote of 52-39.  Ms. Skipwith’s confirmation fell mostly along party lines, with three Democratic Senators joining Republicans in approving the nomination.  With Ms. Skipwith’s confirmation, the USFWS will have its first Director of the USFWS since the beginning of the Trump Administration.

Prior to her confirmation, Ms. Skipwith served as the Interior Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. She is a co-founder and former general ...

FWS Proposes Removing Interior Least Tern from ESA Protection

On October 24, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register announcing the agency’s finding that the interior least tern (Sterna antillarum) is no longer warranted for listing as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The interior least tern, the smallest of the tern species in North America, was first observed in 1804 by explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The fish-mongering bird currently nests adjacent to major U.S. rivers within the Lower Mississippi Valley and the Great Plains region across ...

On October 7, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the agency’s 12-month findings that a dozen species are not warranted for listing as endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  In particular, the FWS decided not to list the yellow-cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis), a slow-growing but commercially in-demand tree that occurs from southern Alaska to northern California.  According to the FWS, yellow-cedars can live 500 to 700 years, with some individuals documented up to 1,600 years ...

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 ...

Settlement Eliminates 1,500 Acres of Designated Dusky Gopher Frog Critical Habitat

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 3, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published a proposed rule to downlist the American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) from endangered to threatened. The Service also proposed a rule under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to allow many routine activities to occur within the range of the species, even if they result in incidental take of the species, in light of the fact that such activities do not affect the overall viability of the American burying beetle.

The American burying beetle is a nocturnal species that has a one year ...

Over the last few weeks, besides proposing to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from the List of Endangered and Threatened Species (which we covered here), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has made a few other moves related to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

On Monday, April 8, 2019, the Service published a final rule, removing one species from the List of Endangered and Threatened Species, adding 16 separate species to the list, and updating the existing entries for 17 more species.  Specifically, the Service added the following species to the ESA List: Gulf grouper ...

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 ...

Nossaman’s Environmental Practice attorneys will be off to a great start in 2019 presenting at many key events around the U.S. focused on endangered species and environmental issues.

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 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 ...

On May 18, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment decision in favor of the Secretary of the Department of the Interior and other federal officials in an action brought by an environmental organization concerning the possible impacts of a Nevada solar power facility on the federally listed desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii).  The Court rejected plaintiff’s contentions that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approvals for the construction and operation of the project ...

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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