Lawsuit Seeks to Compel Endangered Species Act Decision

Plaintiff Center for Biological Diversity (Center) filed an Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) alleged failure to timely make a final ruling regarding whether to list the Panama City crayfish as a threatened or endangered species under the ESA. Thursday’s U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia civil complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the defendants to make a timely determination concerning whether listing is warranted.

The Panama City crayfish, Procambarus econfinae, is “a small, semi-terrestrial crayfish that grows to about two inches in length, excluding its claws, and is found only in Bay County, Florida.” The plaintiff explained that the arthropod “lives in ponds and ditches within wet, pine flatwood forest,” and is threatened due to land development and the conversion of indigenous forest to pine plantations.

The Center filed the suit against both the FWS and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt in his official capacity, as “the federal official in whom the ESA vests final responsibility for making decisions and promulgating regulations required by and in accordance with the ESA, including listing decisions and critical habitat designations.” The Center is a non-profit organization concerned with the welfare of species, particularly those vulnerable to extinction.

According to the filing, the organization and its members “derive professional, scientific, educational, recreational, conservational, aesthetic, and other benefits from observing crayfish in the wild.” Specifically, it described that “Center members have attempted to view and study the Panama City crayfish in its natural habitat and have concrete plans to visit Panama City crayfish habitat.”

The suit detailed the Center’s procedural grievances against the FWS beginning over a decade ago. The plaintiff claimed that the defendants approved its initial April 2010 petition in September 2011 with the issuance of a 90-day finding. The finding determined that the Center had presented “substantial information indicating that the listing of the crayfish ‘may be warranted.’” Thereafter, the FWS was supposedly obligated to make a 12-month finding. It reportedly failed to do so, then agreed to do so by stipulation after the Center filed a lawsuit against it.

The complaint alleged that the FWS made a 12-month finding on Jan. 3, 2018, and was duty-bound to make a final determination “within one year of publication of the proposed regulation, i.e., by January 3, 2019.” The Center contended that the FWS has not yet made a final determination, and as a result it “is in violation of the (ESA) and the crayfish will continue to decline toward extinction.” It further argued that “(t)here is no legal excuse for Defendants’ failure to act,” and seeks relief requiring the FWS to make a finding.

The instant complaint comes on the heels of a similar suit filed by the Center asking for a court order requiring the FWS to make a decision as to the ESA listing of eight species of Caribbean skink.