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Defenders of Wildlife v. Babbitt

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 21113
Nos. 96-160 GK, 958 F. Supp. 670/(D.D.C., 03/27/1997)

The court holds that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS') decision not to propose to list the U.S. population of the Canada lynx as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was arbitrary and capricious. The court first holds that FWS applied the wrong legal standard in its listing decision. FWS concluded that FWS Region 6's proposed rule to list the lynx did not provide any "conclusive evidence" of the biological vulnerability or real threats to the species in the continguous 48 states. But the statute contains no requirement that the evidence be conclusive. Judicial and administrative interpretations of the ESA have consistently construed the statute's "best available data" standard as requiring far less than "conclusive evidence." FWS itself has taken the position that it need not, and must not, wait for conclusive evidence. Also, the government has pointed to nothing in the administrative record to indicate that the agency applied anything other than the conclusive evidence standard it plainly states in its final decision.

The court next holds that FWS acted arbitrarily and capriciously in basing its decision on glaringly faulty factual premises. The agency makes a number of unsupported statements regarding hunting and trapping pressures, the lynx's range, and the lynx's population trends that contain significant factual errors contradicted by overwhelming record evidence. The court also holds that FWS acted arbitrarily and capriciously in rejecting the views of its own experts. FWS Region 6 biologists, after conducting an extensive review of all relevant literature on distribution and status of the species, concluded that at least four of the five statutory factors enumerated in ESA §4 required the agency to list the lynx. While the exhaustive 50-page study of the Region 6 biologists analyzes each of these factors in detail, the agency's cursory five-page decision merely states the category heading for each of the factors and then ignores the evidence and analysis of its experts in making conclusory statements about each factor. The court next holds that FWS cannot be allowed to dismiss the contiguous U.S. population of a species merely because it is more plentiful elsewhere. The government relies on no authority for its claim that because the lynx population is transient, moving throughout its range in search of food over the course of a 10-year cycle, the species is not eligible for ESA protection. The court further holds that the agency's argument that the U.S. population of the lynx does not deserve protection because it is a mere remnant population of a species that once occupied an extensive range is inconsistent with its own past listing decisions. The agency offers no rational reason for departing from its earlier interpretation of the ESA. Therefore, the FWS decision not to list the Canada lynx and grant it the protections of the ESA must be set aside.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Eric R. Glitzenstein, Katherine A. Meyer
Meyer & Glitzenstein
1601 Connecticut Ave. NW, Ste. 450, Washington DC 20009
(202) 588-5206

Counsel for Defendants
Charles W. Brooks
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000