Oregon Natural Resources Council, et al. v. Brown (Steelhead Trout Listing)

Oregon Natural Resources Council, et al. v. Brown (Steelhead Trout Listing)


The Steelhead trout, a species of Pacific salmon, is in danger of extinction throughout its range in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California. Plaintiffs brought suit under the Endangered Species Act to compel a determination whether listing steelhead trout as endangered or threatened throughout this range is warranted, and, if so, to publish proposed and final rules adding steelhead to the list of threatened and endangered species and designating critical habitat. On February 16, 1994 plaintiffs filed a petition with NMFS, requesting that the steelhead trout be added to the endangered species list. The court ruled in March 1996 that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) “violated the ESA and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by failing to issue a proposed rule by February 16, 1995,” but also held that because of the budget freeze, “at the present time defendants cannot be ordered to comply with their duties under the ESA.” Retaining jurisdiction, the court ordered the government to submit a reasonable timetable for the issuance of the proposed ruling on listing within 30 days from the time funds are appropriated for their ESA duties. Judge Illston’s 6/24/96 order responded to NMFS’ proposed timetable and request for an additional 6-month extension with “the steelhead trout have been under study by defendants since at least May 20, 1993 … the time has come for action—not for further study or reprioritizing pending petitions.” Seventeen months late and under court order, NMFS finally published its listing proposal for west coast steelhead trout populations. As in the Coho listing case, the date for final rule was one year from the date the proposed rule was actually published in the Federal Register, not one year from the date the proposed rule legally should have been published. Thus, final rules were due by August 9, 1997. This suit was filed by the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund on behalf of a coalition of groups including: Oregon Natural Resources Council, EPIC, California Sport Fishing Protection Alliance, California Trout, Carmel River Steelhead Association, Coast Range Association, Federation of Fly Fishers, Friends of the Santa Clara River, Friends of the Ventura River, Keep the Sespe Wild Committee, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, Oregon Wildlife Federation, Pilchuck Audubon Society, Sacramento River Preservation Trust, Santa Barbara Urban Creeks Council, Save the West, Siskiyou Regional Education Project, The Nature School, Washington Trout and the Western Ancient Forest Campaign, all non-profit organizations, against Ronald Brown, Secretary of Commerce and Rolland Schmitten, Director, NMFS.

The Oregon Coho was finally listed as threatened in 1998, delisted in 2001 under the Alsea Valley decision because hatchery steelhead populations skewed perceived threat. In February 2008, the coho was relisted as threatened.

Procedure: On 9/6/95 plaintiffs filed Complaint in U.S. District Court (C-95-3117, Judge Vaughn Walker, case transferred 9/25/95 to Judge Susan Illston). Motion for Summary Judgment filed 12/19/95. Decision issued 3/19/96 ruling that the deadline for action by NMFS on a proposed regulation listing Pacific coast Steelhead trout populations was 2/16/95 and that the agency had violated the ESA and APA; the court ordered NMFS to comply with their ESA listing duties in a “reasonable” time period. NMFS proposed 12/3/96 to issue the rule. On 6/24/96 Judge Illston ordered the rule to be issued by 7/31/96. On 8/9/96 NMFS issued a proposed rule to list 10 of the 15 population segments of west coast steelhead; final rules due by 8/9/97.

Status: NMFS listed Steelhead Trout, 8-12-97, as threatened in some areas of the state, and endangered in Southern California, Northern California steelhead is finally listed as of 2000.

Attorneys: Michael Sherwood and Hank Bates (Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund).

EPIC Contact: Jesse Noell.