Tag: endangered species

Third District Holds Bumble Bees are “fish” under the California Endangered Species Act, Can Be Listed as Endangered or Threatened Species

In Almond Alliance of California v. Fish and Game Commission (2022) 79 Cal.App.5th 337, the Third District Court of Appeal held that bumble bees fall under the general definition of “fish,” as the term is defined in the California Fish and Game Code, because the definition includes terrestrial, as well as aquatic, invertebrates. Accordingly, bumble bees, which are terrestrial invertebrates, may receive protected status as endangered or threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act (“CESA”).


In October 2018, several public interest groups petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission (“Commission”) to list four species of bumble bees as endangered. Soon after, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (“Department”) issued a report declaring sufficient evidence for the Commission to accept the petition to list the species. The Commission acted accordingly, declaring the bee species as “candidate” species for further review by the Department.

In September 2019, Petitioners challenged the Commission’s decision to list the bumble bees as candidate species. They alleged the Commission violated its legal duty and abused its discretion because bumble bees are terrestrial invertebrates not included in CESA’s protections for “bird[s], mammal[s], fish, amphibian[s], reptile[s], or plant[s].” Furthermore, they asserted that section 45’s definition of “fish,” which includes invertebrates, refers only to aquatic invertebrates.

The trial court ruled for petitioners. The Commission, the Department, and several public interest groups appealed.

The Court of Appeal’s Decision

Section 45 Definition of “Fish” as Applied to Sections 2062, 2067, and 2068 of CESA

“Fish” as defined in section 45 of the California Fish and Game Code means “a wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part, spawn, or ovum of any of those animals.”  The Commission contended that this definition applies to the provisions of CESA which define endangered, threatened, and candidate species—sections 2062, 2067 and, 2068, respectively.

The Court agreed with the Commission, citing legal precedent and CESA’s legislative history. Specifically, the Court reaffirmed the holding in California Forestry Association v. California Fish & Game Commission (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 1535 that section 45 defines “fish” as the term is used in sections 2062 and 2067 of CESA. Additionally, the Court identified several instances in which the Legislature used or acquiesced to the use of the section 45 definition. For example, the Court highlighted that the Legislature expressly used the section 45 definition of “fish” when it enacted CESA, though it was within the purview the Legislature to create its own definition. Relatedly, the Legislature amended section 45 after the California Forestry Association decision, but stopped short of signaling its contrary intent from the holding in that case. Based on this evidence, the Court concluded that the Legislature intended for the word “fish” in sections 2062, 2067, and 2068 of CESA to take on the meaning as defined in section 45.

“Fish” Is a Term of Art Not Limited to Aquatic Species 

Petitioners asserted that even if section 45 applies to sections 2062, 2067, and 2068, the term invertebrates in the definition of “fish” should be read as being limited to aquatic invertebrates. However, the Court espoused the more technical definition of “fish” that encompasses all terrestrial and aquatic species that fall under the categories of “mollusks, invertebrates, amphibians, and crustaceans.”

The Court described how legislative history supports this definition. It explained that at the time CESA was enacted, several bill analysis reports noted that the Commission had the authority to designate insects as endangered or threatened. Additionally, the Court highlighted that the Commission previously approved a terrestrial mollusk and invertebrate, the Trinity Bristle Snail, as an endangered species and expressly reaffirmed its status upon CESA’s enaction. The Trinity Bristle Snail’s endangered status is an explicit example of the Commission using its authority to protect terrestrial invertebrates under the section 45 definition of “fish.”

Additionally, the Court noted that previous caselaw directs it to construe laws providing for the conservation of natural resources liberally.

Construing CESA liberally, and considering the legislative intent behind CESA, the Court concluded that “a terrestrial invertebrate, like each of the four bumble bee species, may be listed as an endangered or threatened species under [CESA].”

— Jordan Wright

Salmon Advocates Reel in Victory under CESA in Third District

In Central Coast Forest Association v. Fish and Game Commission (2018) 2 Cal.5th 594 (Central Coast Association II), on remand from the Supreme Court, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the Fish and Game Commission, upholding the Commission’s denial of a request to move the southern boundary of Central California Coast salmon habitat range, and so delist the population occurring in that range as an endangered species. The court found that the Commission acted within its discretion when it determined that the southern evolutionary significant unit (ESU) was not a separate species from the threatened northern coho salmon, that the southern coho salmon ESU was native to California, and that it should be protected wherever it is currently found. The California Endangered Species Act (CESA) promotes the protection of wildlife, and the Legislature affords the Commission substantial deference in how CESA is interpreted to achieve that goal.

Factual and Procedural Background

In 1995 the Commission listed the southern coho salmon ESU as endangered, due to habitat loss and degradation. In 2000, the Commission amended this ruling, and additional populations of coho salmon occurring north of San Francisco were listed as either endangered or threatened in different regions.

This case is the culmination of two prior appeals in the Third District, and a ruling by the California Supreme Court, in Central Coast Forest Association v. Fish and Game Commission (2017) 2 Cal.5th 594 (Central Coast Association I). The petitioner is an association of timber companies that operate in areas where the southern coho migrates and spawns. Two months before the Commission’s 2004 amended listing decision, petitioner Big Creek Lumber requested that the Commission consider its petition to delist the southern ESU, alleging that new evidence had been made available since the Commission’s 1995 determination, and so the 1995 listing was improper.

Based on the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (DFW) findings and the Commission’s independent analysis, the Commission denied the delisting request in 2005. The petitioners challenged that decision in superior court, which remanded the matter back to the Commission. The Third District again reversed the judgment on appeal. On remand, the trial court again found for the petitioners, and was once again reversed by the Third District on appeal. The Third District then held that the petitioners committed a procedural error, as a delisting petition must be directed at events that occur after the decision to list a species, and not on new evidence that the original listing decision was improper. This holding was reversed by the Supreme Court in Central Coast Forest Association I. The Supreme Court held that a delisting petition can be based on new evidence, showing that the original decision to list the species was improper. The Court then remanded the case back to the Third District, with instructions to address specific issues and resolve the case on the merits. This decision followed.

Evidentiary Standard and Standard of Review

Under CESA, the evidentiary burden is on the petitioner, and judicial review is deferential to the agency. Petitioners must present enough evidence to lead a reasonable person to conclude that there is a substantial possibility that delisting would be justified, should the agency accept the petition. The Commission evaluates a petitioner’s evidence for reliability and credibility, and weighs it against DFW’s written findings. Because these matters are technical and scientific in nature, the Commission’s findings are afforded deference, and the DFW’s findings, upon which the Commission relies, are given substantial deference. The court reviews the Commission’s determination under administrative mandamus and draws all inferences in favor of the Commission. The court can reverse the agency only if the evidence clearly weighs against the agency’s findings.

Third District’s Decision

The petitioner argued that the southern coho is not native to California under CESA based on studies of archeological sites in the area and historical records and samples. They also argued that natural conditions in the region are too harsh to support a southern coho population, and that the record of hatchery plantings in the area’s streams include hatchery fish from out-of-state stocks.

After reviewing both the petitioner’s evidence and the Commission’s findings, the court upheld the Commission’s determination that the petitioner’s evidence was speculative, incorrect, irrelevant, or at best supported a contradictory inference, from which more than one conclusion could be drawn. The court stated that it was within the Commission’s discretion to draw different conclusions.

For example, reliable museum samples demonstrated that coho salmon existed south of the San Francisco, before hatcheries. The court stated that the low number of specimens was not dispositive, and the lack of conclusive evidence of the historic presence of the southern coho in the record could not be used to prove a negative—that the salmon did not exist. Finally, the petitioner’s contention that the existing samples are “strays” from other areas was unsupported by the evidence.

Notably, the court agreed with the Commission’s contention that “hatchery-influenced” fish are still considered native. While there is some evidence that out-state-stock was used in California hatcheries, there is no evidence to support a conclusion that current population consists entirely of non-native fish. Further, the inability to survive without hatchery support is not evidence for delisting a species.

In making these determinations, the Court agreed with the Commission that “native” means that the species as a whole is native to California and rejected the petitioner’s argument, as a matter of law, that once the focus of the term “species” is narrowed to a particular geographic area, “nativeness” is only viewed relative to that region. CESA emphasizes that the protection of species is of statewide concern.  Similarly, the “range” of a species is not determined by its historic range, which may be influenced by human activity, but it is protected wherever found.

Additionally, the court disagreed with the petitioner’s interpretation of the federal Endangered Species Act, and found that an endangerment listing does not require that an individual population must be an important component in the evolutionary legacy of the species.

Federal policy provides that a population of pacific salmonids can only be considered an ESU if it is substantially reproductively isolated from other nonspecific populations and represents an important component in the evolutionary legacy of the species. Based on a brief reference in a 2002 report stating that the southern ESU may be evolutionarily distinct, the petitioner argued that the Commission must find that the southern coho is evolutionarily distinct and important to the species in order to qualify as an ESU. The court held that the Commission correctly interpreted the federal guidance as protecting the southern coho, as a population of the California Central Coast ESU. The federal policy definition of ESU applies to the entire ESU, not just each individual population.

The court also addressed specific issues raised by the Supreme Court to be resolved on remand, reiterating that range means “current range” and not the historic area once occupied by a population. Additionally, a portion of an endangered species may be delisted only if it can be defined as a separate species, subspecies, or ESU that is not endangered. Because the southern coho is at risk for extinction, it is not eligible to be “carved out” from the California Central Coast ESU and delisted.

Sara Dudley

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Rule to Remove Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle From List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife

On Tuesday, October 2, 2012, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a proposed rule in the Federal Register that would remove the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle from the list of species protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle is endemic to California’s Central Valley. This subspecies is a wood borer that is dependent on its host plant, the elderberry.  When the beetle was first included on the list in 1980, it was only known to exist at three locations in Merced, Sacramento, and Yolo County. Currently, the beetle is known to exist in over twenty six places, including the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys from Shasta to Kern County. The beetle lives in elderberry bushes in riparian forest and in upland vegetation along river corridors in the Central Valley.

In California, over 21,000 acres of land are designated as protected habitat for the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle.

If the proposed rule is made final, it will both remove the beetle from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, and remove the designation of critical habitat for the subspecies.

The proposed rule has a sixty two day comment period which ends on December 3, 2012. The FWS will conduct a public hearing upon request, although no hearing is currently planned.

The proposed rule can be found in the Federal Register at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2012/10/02/2012-23843/endangered-and-threatened-wildlife-and-plants-removal-of-the-valley-elderberry-longhorn-beetle-from#h-8

 (By Holly Roberson)