Northern Spotted Owl v. Hodel
716 F.Supp. 479 (W.D.Wash. 1988)
- In order to receive any
protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (16
U.S.C. §1351), a species must first
be officially listed as being endangered.
- The official list is at 50
- Environmental groups
petitioned the Dept. of Interior (DOI) to list the Northern Spotted Owl as
an endangered species.
- ESA §4(a)(3) instructs DOI to determine whether any
species have become endangered or threatened due to habitat destruction, overutilization,
disease or predation, or other natural or manmade factors.
- DOI had no interest in
giving the owl ESA protection
because that would interfere with a lot of logging that they had approved
in Washington State.
- DOI dragged its feet for a
while, but eventually conducted a review and issued a finding that listing
the owl was "not warranted at this time."
- DOI came to this conclusion
despite the fact that the majority of scientific evidence supported
listing the owl as an endangered species.
- DOI didn't explain the
reasons for their decision other than to say that their 'expertise'
supported their conclusions.
- The environmental groups sued,
claiming that DOI's decision should be overturned because it was arbitrary
- See Administrative Procedure
Act (APA) (5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A)), which allows courts to overturn arbitrary
and capricious actions.
- The Trial Court reversed DOI's
decisions and remanded the issue.
- The Trial Court acknowledged
that the courts were to give Administrative Agencies such as DOI judicial
- However, the Court noted
that the DOI's ruling did not include any analysis or provided any
grounds for their decision.
- The Court was unable to
rule on whether DOI's action was arbitrary and capricious until they knew the reasons for DOI's action.
- " The Court will
reject conclusory assertions of agency 'expertise' where the agency
spurns unrebutted expert opinions without itself offering a credible
- Btw, DOI was unable to
find a single expert willing to testify at trial that the owl was not endangered.
- The Court remanded do DOI to
provide an analysis explaining the grounds of their decision.
- On remand, DOI reversed their
position and listed the owl as a threatened species.