Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter of Cmtys. for a Great Or.

515 U.S. 687, 115 S. Ct. 2407 (1995)

 

RULE:

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), 16 U.S.C.S. § 1531 et seq., contains a variety of protections designed to save from extinction species that the Secretary of the Interior designates as endangered or threatened. Section 9, 16 U.S.C.S. § 1538, of the ESA makes it unlawful for any person to "take" any endangered or threatened species. The secretary has promulgated a regulation that defines the statute's prohibition on takings to include significant habitat modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures wildlife.

FACTS:

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 USCS 1531 et seq.) contains a variety of protections designed to save from extinction species that the Secretary of the Interior designates as endangered or threatened. § 9(a)(1)(B) of the statute generally makes it unlawful for any person to "take" any endangered or threatened species of fish or wildlife, although there is a provision in the Act which authorizes the Secretary to grant a permit for any taking otherwise prohibited by 9(a)(1)(B) if such taking is incidental to, and not the purpose of, the carrying out of an otherwise lawful activity. The respondent organization contended that the regulation defining harm, particularly the inclusion of habitat modification and degradation, exceeded the authority of § 9(a)(1)(B) of the ESA, 16 U.S.C.S. § 1539(a)(1)(B).

ISSUE:

Was the Secretary of Interior’s interpretation of the word “harm” under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 valid?  

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The Court held that the regulation was reasonable because an ordinary understanding of the word "harm" encompassed habitat modification that resulted in actual injury or death to endangered or threatened species. The fact that the Secretary was authorized to issue permits for takings that § 9(a)(1)(B) of the ESA would otherwise prohibit, if such taking was incidental to, and not the purpose of, the carrying out of an otherwise lawful activity, strongly suggested that Congress understood § 9(a)(1)(B) to prohibit indirect as well as deliberate takings. The latitude the ESA gave the Secretary in enforcing the statute, together with the degree of regulatory expertise necessary to its enforcement, established that some degree of deference was owed to the Secretary's reasonable interpretation. The legislative history further supported the Court's conclusion that the Secretary's definition of harm rested on a permissible construction of the ESA.

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