Southwest Center for Biological Diversity v. United States Bureau of Reclamation

143 F.3d 515 (1998)

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Southwest Center for Biological Diversity v. United States Bureau of Reclamation

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
143 F.3d 515 (1998)

  • Written by Tanya Munson, JD

Facts

The southwestern willow flycatcher (the flycatcher) was a migratory songbird listed as an endangered species by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The flycatcher would nest and breed in the cottonwood-willow habitat in the Lake Mead delta (the delta). The delta was exposed by low water impounded by the Hoover Dam on the Lower Colorado River, which was operated by the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) (defendant), part of the Department of the Interior (DOI). The dam operations of USBR affected cottonwood-willow growth. In 1995, the USBR began consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) pursuant to the ESA over the effects of its dam activities on the Lower Colorado River in relation to the flycatcher. In 1997, the FWS issued a biological opinion (BO) concluding that the USBR’s operations over the next five years would jeopardize the survival of the flycatcher and proposed a reasonable prudent alternative (RPA) composed of short- and long-term components, including procurement and protection of flycatcher Lake Mead habitat. The secretary of the DOI responded and argued that USBR should not be compelled to preserve the Lake Mead habitat because it lacked the discretion to reduce the level of Lake Mead. The FWS issued a new, final BO and RPA, which no longer required the USBR to take action to preserve the Lake Mead delta. The final RPA would avoid jeopardy to the flycatcher by requiring the USBR to procure and protect flycatcher habitat in different areas near the delta. Southwest Center for Biological Diversity (Southwest) (plaintiff) filed a complaint against the secretary under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), arguing that the adoption of the final RPA was arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to the ESA. Southwest and the secretary filed motions for summary judgment. The district court granted the secretary’s motion, and Southwest appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Goodwin, J.)

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