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Idaho Farm Bureau Federation v. Babbitt



Idaho Farm Bureau Foundation (IFBF) brought this suit against the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and other federal agencies alleging violations of both the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) for its listing of a type of snail as an endangered species. The issues on appeal were: 1) whether the ESA’s statutory time limits barred the listing of the species as endangered, 2) whether FWS committed procedural errors in listing the snail as endangered, and 3) whether these errors were sufficiently serious to warrant setting aside the listing.

The Ninth Circuit first held that the intervenors/appellants Idaho Conservation League and Committee for Idaho’s HighDesert (ICL/CIHD) had the right to intervene and had standing to bring this appeal.

With regard to the ESA’s time limits for listing endangered species more than eighteen months after the listing is proposed, the Ninth Circuit held that Congress’s underlying purpose for enacting the time limits was to expedite listing, not bar late listings. Therefore, the Secretary of the Interior, acting through FWS, has the authority to list a species as endangered even after the eighteen-month statutory time limit has expired.

The procedural requirements for FWS’s listing of the snail are prescribed in both the APA and the ESA. The APA provides that “interested persons” are given the “opportunity to participate . . . through submissions of written data, views or arguments,” and “after consideration of the relevant matter presented.” ICL/CIHD first argued that FWS did not make available to the public the provisional United States Geological Survey (USGS) report referred to extensively in its supplemental information accompanying the final listing. Although there was some disagreement in the record, at least one FWS employee maintained that the USGS report was open to the public at the FWS field office. The Ninth Circuit concluded, however, that this report was not available to the public for comment when the final listing decision was made by FWS and therefore violated the APA. The court noted that “[o]pportunity for public comment is particularly crucial when the accuracy of important material in the record is in question.”

ICL/CIHD also argued that the length of the public comment period was not adequate. The Ninth Circuit rejected this argument, holding that the public comment period provided was adequate and that the agency responded adequately.

The Ninth Circuit concluded that the failure to provide public review of the USGS report was a significant procedural error, and it remanded to the district court to require the Secretary to make the USGS report available for comment. The court directed the Secretary to provide the public with any new information he would be considering.

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