Western Watersheds Project v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service

535 F. Supp. 2d 1173 (2007)

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Western Watersheds Project v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service

United States District Court for the District of Idaho
535 F. Supp. 2d 1173 (2007)

Facts

Populations of the greater sage-grouse were in decline due to various threats. The land area occupied by the sage-grouse throughout the country had been reduced significantly. Environmental groups filed a series of petitions with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (the service) (defendant) to initiate the process for listing the sage-grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The service conducted a 90-day review and found that there was substantial information to warrant listing the sage-grouse. Next, the service began the process for its 12-month finding. It evaluated information on conservation efforts and conducted a risk analysis to determine the probability that the sage-grouse would become extinct. The service convened a panel of outside experts to opine on when the sage-grouse would become extinct. The panel discussed extinction risks with the service’s management team responsible for making the final listing decision, but the panel did not issue a written report, and no record was made of the panel’s discussions. The experts were not asked to make a recommendation on whether the sage-grouse deserved to be listed. The experts were simply asked to indicate the probability that the sage-grouse would become extinct in each of three geographic regions. The experts predicted that, in 100 years, there was a 36 percent probability the sage-grouse would be extinct across its entire range, a 52 percent probability that it would be extinct in the eastern portion of its range, and a 40 percent probability that it would be extinct in the western portion of its range. Ultimately, the director of the service rejected the petitions to list the sage-grouse. The director found that a consensus had decided that there was not a significant portion of the range in which threats to the sage-grouse were greater than range-wide threats. However, the director’s finding included no explanation of how the director reached the conclusion that the eastern portion of the sage-grouse’s range was not a significant portion of the range or whether the consensus was that of the expert panel or the management team. The Western Watersheds Project (plaintiff) challenged the director’s finding as arbitrary and capricious.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Winmill, C.J.)

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