National Wildlife Federation v. National Marine Fisheries Service, No. 06-35011 (9th Cir. 2007)

On April 9, 2007, the Ninth Circuit held that the jeopardy analysis under the Endangered Species Act regulations must consider the effects of an action on a listed species’ chance of recovery in a Section 7 consultation. The regulations, which were promulgated in 1986, prohibit any agency action “that reasonably would be expected, directly or indirectly, to reduce appreciably the likelihood of both the survival and recovery of a listed species in the wild.” 50 C.F.R. § 402.02. In a challenge to a biological opinion issued for the proposed operations of the Federal Columbia River Power System dams and related facilities, the National Marine Fisheries Service had argued that the restriction bars only actions that will both reduce the likelihood of survival and recovery of the species. Because a species may survive without recovering to the point where it is no longer imperiled, the requirement to reduce the species’ chance of both survival and recovery was effectively a survival standard. The Ninth Circuit upheld a district court’s decision invalidating the biological opinion, noting that the agency’s interpretation “reads ‘and recovery’ entirely out of the text.” The decision also contains important guidance on the definition of discretionary federal actions and rejects the NMFS effort to view the scope of the federal action narrowly.