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National Audubon Soc'y v. Davis

ELR Citation: 33 ELR 20058
Nos. Nos. 01-15159 et al., 307 F.3d 835/(9th Cir., 09/24/2002)

The court holds that California's Proposition 4, which bans the use of certain traps and poisons to capture or kill wildlife in the state, is preempted by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Wildlife Refuge Systems Improvement Act (NWRSIA). An environmental group brought suit against the state challenging the part of Proposition 4 that bans the use of leghold traps by any person, arguing that if fewer predatory mammals are trapped, more such mammals will be alive to prey on birds. Both individual trappers and a trappers' association intervened in the suit. The court first holds that the district court correctly held that the environmental group has standing to bring the suit against the state department of fish and game and that its claims are ripe and not moot. However, the court holds that the district court erred in determining that the trappers lacked standing to bring their claims. The trappers suffered actual, discrete, and direct injury-in-fact in the form of financial losses incurred from the prohibition on trapping contained in Proposition 4; the trappers' economic injury is fairly traceable to the enactment of Proposition 4; and the trappers' injury is redressable. On the merits of the case, the court holds that the ESA preempts Proposition 4 to the extent that it prevents federal agencies from protecting ESA-listed species. The state's interpretation of Proposition 4—that it does not apply to federal trapping programs under the ESA—is an unlikely reading of the text. Under the ESA, a state is allowed to pass laws and promulgate regulations that would conserve wildlife, but only insofar as those laws and regulations are consistent with the protection of endangered species under the ESA. There is no exception in the ESA that would allow a state to conserve wildlife that is not endangered, such as the predatory mammals in this case, when the effect of that conservation would be to further endanger species already listed as endangered under the ESA. The court also holds that the NWRSIA preempts Proposition 4's regulation of federal trapping on national wildlife refuges in California because the ban on leghold traps conflicts with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's statutory management authority on those federal reserves. In addition, the court holds that Proposition 4 does not violate the U.S. Commerce Clause by discriminating against interstate commerce, and it does not place an undue burden on interstate commerce in comparison to its putative benefits.

Counsel for Appellant
John McCaull
National Audubon Society
555 Audubon Pl., Sacramento CA 95825
(916) 481-5332

Counsel for Appellee
Katherine Barton
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000