Thomas v. Peterson
753 F.2d 754 (9th Cir. 1985)

  • The US Forest Service (USFS) was interested in building a road through a forest that contained endangered wolves.
  • Environmental Groups sued for an injunction.
    • The environmental groups sought an injunction to stop the USFS from building the road until they were in compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (16 U.S.C. 1351).
      • The environmental groups argued that the road wasn't an end in itself. The purpose of the road was to allow timber companies access to the area and cut down all the trees. A big project like that was likely to harm the wolves.
    • USFS had not made a formal request to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to determine the impact they road would have on the wolves, as they were required to do under the ESA 7(a)(2).
      • USFS argued that a small project like a road wasn't likely to hurt a species like a wolf, so it was not necessary to get a formal assessment.
  • The Trial Court denied the injunction. The environmental groups appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that the USFS technically should have alerted the FWS, but it didn't matter because the FWS was already aware there were endangered wolves in the area.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and issued the injunction.
    • The Appellate Court found that once an Agency is aware that an endangered species is present, the ESA requires that they prepare a biological assessment to determine if their proposed actions are likely to affect the species.
      • USFS did not do this, and did not ask FWS to do it for them.
      • The Appellate Court likened this to a failure to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (required under NEPA), and so there should be similar sanction.
    • The Court found that Agencies couldn't bypass the ESA by 'segmenting' a project to make it seem smaller. When deciding if action under the ESA is required, the Agency has to consider all foreseeable consequences of the project, not focus solely on the project itself.
      • For example, if you are intending on cutting down an entire forest, you can't split the project up into a million individual projects each cutting down a single tree, and then claim that each of those projects won't harm the environment because the loss of one tree is unimportant.