On October 4, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a revision of its interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). With the final rule, FWS has effectively reinstated its position that “incidental take” — the harming or killing that results from, but is not the purpose of, carrying out an otherwise lawful activity — is prohibited by the MBTA, and persons that cause incidental take can be prosecuted criminally. FWS’s final rule represents a reversal of a Trump-era interpretation of the MBTA, which narrowly interpreted liability under the statute to apply only to those actions specifically “directed at” migratory birds that “reduce animals to human control.” See previous post covering the prior rule.

Continue Reading Changes to Migratory Bird Treaty Act Program Announced

On April 15, Judge André Birotte Jr. for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California determined that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Bureau) operation of the Twitchell Dam with certain water flows did not result in an unlawful take of Southern California Steelhead trout, a species listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Plaintiffs San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper and Los Padres Forestwatch claimed that the Bureau’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for the Twitchell Dam limit the timing and volume of releases from the dam in a manner that has diminished trout habitat and resulted in harm to the trout population by impairing behavioral patterns including breeding, spawning, rearing, and migrating.
Continue Reading Judge Does Not Require Dam to Alter Water Flows for ESA Species Protection

In an April 1, 2021 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Florida’s exceptions to the decision of Special Master Judge Paul Kelly in its long-running dispute with Georgia over the use of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river basin. The oral argument in the case, held February 22, 2021, seemed to point to several open questions where the justices could have made new law or clarified the tests associated with an equitable apportionment action. However, in the end, it came down to just the content of the evidentiary record, which was not in Florida’s favor, especially with the application of heightened standards of review.

Continue Reading Georgia Prevails Before Supreme Court In Long Running Water Wars Dispute

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) continues its push to finalize pending rules before the new administration takes office next year. Following a publication of a final rule defining “habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) earlier this week, today the agency published a final rule establishing the agency’s process for excluding certain lands from critical habitat designations.

Continue Reading FWS Finalizes Rule for Excluding Areas from Critical Habitat Designations

In accordance with a settlement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the FWS was required to make an Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing determination for the monarch butterfly by December 15, 2020. On December 17, 2020, the FWS announced that it had determined that adding the monarch butterfly to the list of threatened and endangered species is “warranted but precluded” by higher-priority listing actions.

Continue Reading Fish and Wildlife Service Issues “Warranted but Precluded” Finding for Monarch Butterfly

In a case involving the question of when unoccupied habitat may be designated “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. Supreme Court held that critical habitat land must first be habitat before it could be “critical habitat.” Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. FWS, 139 S.Ct. 361 (2018). Given that neither the ESA nor its implementing regulations define habitat, the Court remanded the case for further consideration. In response to this opinion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (the Services) issued a final rule defining habitat on December 16, 2020. The rule becomes effective on January 15, 2021.

Continue Reading Final Rule Defining “Habitat” under the Endangered Species Act Issued

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. FWS, 139 S.Ct. 361 (2018), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has issued a series of proposals to refine the scope, meaning, and criteria for designating critical habitat for species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The most recent proposal will be published in the Federal Register on September 8, 2020, kicking off a 30-day public comment period.

Continue Reading FWS Issues Additional Habitat Proposal

On July 31, 2020, the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively, the “Services”) released an advance copy of a proposed rule defining “habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The proposed rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register this week, kicking off a 30-day public comment period.
Continue Reading Definition of Habitat Proposed for the ESA

Yesterday, the U.S. District Court for Montana amended its April 15, 2020, order vacating Nationwide Permit (NWP) 12, which authorizes minimal impacts from “utility line activities” to jurisdictional waters. As we previously reported, despite the case centering on the Keystone XL Pipeline, the court’s April 15 order vacated NWP 12 nationwide for all activities (including broadband, electric, water and sewer) until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) consults with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (Services) pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In yesterday’s order, the court amended the vacatur’s applicability by limiting it to the construction of new oil and gas pipelines. Under the amended order, the Corps may continue to authorize the use of NWP 12 for construction of new utility lines for broadband, electric, water, and sewer, as well as “maintenance, inspection, and repair activities” on existing utility lines, including existing pipelines.

Continue Reading Montana District Court Limits Its Vacatur of Nationwide Permit 12

As we previously reported, the Federal District Court for Montana vacated the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) Nationwide Permit (NWP) 12 on April 15, 2020, finding that the Corps had failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service prior to issuing NWP 12. Despite the case centering on the Keystone XL Pipeline, the court’s decision vacated NWP 12 nationwide and prevents the Corps from authorizing a broad range of utility projects that are unrelated to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Continue Reading Update: Corps Seeks Stay of Montana District Court’s NWP 12 Ruling