California agency refuses to comply with California Endangered Species Act

June 01, 2018 | By WENCONG FA
Sea otter pair, playful companions in the ocean.

You’d think that California would want to comply with laws that protect the environment. But that’s not always the case. The California Endangered Species Act (CESA) requires the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to conduct status reviews of species listed as threatened or endangered once every five years. The Department has failed to meet this obligation for 231 listed species and has never indicated its intent to conduct even one additional status review at any point in the future. Yet rather than follow the law, the Department asked a court to absolve it of any wrongdoing, based on nothing more than the unsupported assertion that following California law would deprive it of the resources it needs to operate and could lead to the extinction of species. Today, we opposed the Department’s efforts to contravene CESA.

If the Department’s assertion sounds like hyperbole, that’s because it is. As the Department’s own employees admitted, the Department’s estimates about resources weren’t based on its experience conducting five-year status reviews. Indeed, two of the three employees who generated the estimates had no experience conducting five-year status reviews at all, and the third had only perfunctory knowledge of how those status reviews actually worked. The Department instead based its sky-is-falling predictions on 12-month status reviews under another subsection of CESA — a process that is plainly more complex and rigorous than five-year status reviews. For example, the 12-month status reviews require the Department to produce a peer-reviewed report; the five-year status reviews do not.

The legislature recognized the importance of five-year status reviews when it made them mandatory. The point of CESA is to restore species to the point at which its protections are no longer needed — a goal that presupposes accurate, up-to-date information about those species. The Department should not be allowed to flout CESA under any circumstance, but especially when it offers nothing more than off-target calculations about the resources it would take to follow the law. The case will be heard in San Diego superior court on July 6.