A federal court in the District of Columbia has ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) may not revoke Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for endangered species without providing an opportunity for public review and comment. Friends of Blackwater v. Salazar, No. 09-2122 (D.D.C. 3/25/11).

In 1985, the FWS placed the Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel on the Endangered Species List, citing industrial logging that, from the 1880s to the 1940s, had destroyed the animal’s habitat. A prior delisting report advised against delisting the squirrel, but in 2008 the FWS removed the squirrel from the Endangered Species List after abandoning its own recovery plan for the species.

Plaintiffs sued, arguing that FWS’s decision not to abide by its squirrel recovery plan constituted a revision requiring public notice and comment. The court agreed, holding that the ESA requires the agency to follow its recovery plan in delisting a species from the ESA and that revisions to such a plan may not be accomplished without public input. The court vacated the delisting rule and remanded the case to FWS for additional proceedings consistent with the court’s decision.