Environmental Group Sues U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Alleged Violation of the ESA

The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit on Wednesday against defendants U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Martha Williams (Principal Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and Deb Haaland (Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior) in the Central District of California. The plaintiff has filed suit against the defendant over their purported failure to make a decision regarding the endangered species status of both the Santa Ana speckled dace and the Long Valley speckled dace. The alleged misconduct of the defendants is said to be in violation of the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA) deadlines.

According to the complaint, the Santa Ana speckled dace is a tiny fish that is native only to Southern California’s river systems. The plaintiff asserts that the fish is currently under significant risk of extinction due to urban development in the area, impact from dams, and ongoing climate change. The Long Valley speckled dace is also a tiny fish, “endemic to the Long Valley volcanic caldera” in Mono County, California, as stated in the complaint. The Center for Biological Diversity claims that extinction is the main threat facing the Long Valley speckled dace because of urban development, impacts from river channelization, and climate change.

When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) receives a petition for a species to be classified as endangered, they have 90 days to make a determination regarding the species’ endangerment status, as noted in the complaint. Accompanying their determination must be a status review of the species. Following the status review, the USFWS must publish another document within twelve months titled the “12-month finding,” where they list if their previous findings were warranted.

The USFWS issued a 90-day finding regarding the status of the two fish, but failed to publish the corresponding 12-month findings in a timely manner, the Center for Biological Diversity contends. The plaintiff asserts that until the finding is published, the species “will continue to lack necessary protections under the ESA.”

Accordingly, when a species is listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA, they are afforded certain protections. The USFWS must also “develop and implement recovery plans for listed species… [and] make federal funds available to states to assist in the conservation of endangered and threatened species.” The plaintiff maintains that “the agency’s failure delays crucial, lifesaving protections for these imperiled fish, increasing their risk of extinction.”

The complaint cites two violations of the ESA for failure to publish a timely 12-month listing determination on behalf of the Santa Ana speckled dace and the Long Valley speckled dace. The plaintiff is seeking declarations of these violations, injunctive relief, the ability to “retain continuing jurisdiction to review Defendants’ compliance with all judgement and orders herein,” litigation fees, and any other relief deemed proper by Court.

The Center for Biological Diversity is using its own counsel.