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National Wildlife Federation v. Norton

2005 WL 2175874 (2005)

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National Wildlife Federation v. Norton

United States District Court for the Eastern District of California

2005 WL 2175874 (2005)

Facts

In 2003, the Secretary of the Interior (the secretary) (defendant) approved a habitat-conservation plan to cover development by the City of Sacramento and Sutter County (the city) in the Natomas Basin. The Natomas Basin habitat-conservation plan (NBHCP) covered 22 species and paid particular attention to the giant garter snake (GGS) and Swainson’s hawk, two species that were prominent in the basin and listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The primary mitigation measure of the NBHCP was the acquisition and enhancement of reserve properties at a .5-to-1 ratio for all habitat loss that was to be funded by developer fees. The secretary granted incidental-take permits (ITPs) to the city, authorizing thousands of acres of development in the Natomas Basin. The secretary and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued supporting documents required by Section 7 of the ESA, including a biological opinion (BiOp) examining the effects of the proposed ITP, findings and recommendations supporting the issuance of the ITP, and a final environmental-impact statement (EIS). In these documents, the FWS extensively evaluated the mitigation ratio and determined that the reserve lands would adequately compensate for the loss of some habitat and that there would be a low level of harm to the GGS and Swainson’s hawk. The National Wildlife Federation and other environmental groups (federation) (plaintiffs) alleged that the secretary violated the ESA by approving the conservation plan and issuing the incidental-take permits because the FWS erred in finding the .5-to-1 mitigation ratio sufficiently compensated for the injury that would occur to the GGS and Swainson’s hawk as a result of the development authorized by the ITPs. The secretary and the federation both moved for summary judgment.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Levi, J.)

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