Chinook salmon, © USFWS

Sixth Time’s A Charm?!?

Supreme Court denies yet another attempt to roll back endangered species protections

Some anti-wildlife groups just won’t take no for answer. In five previous cases, the 4th, 5th, 11th and D.C. (twice) Circuit courts have firmly upheld the nation’s interest in protecting endangered species. All five decisions were appealed to the Supreme Court, and each one has been denied.  Now the Supreme Court has rebuffed a sixth such challenge, this one from the 9th Circuit, involving a constitutional challenge to federal protection of the threatened Delta smelt.

In each of these cases, wildlife opponents have claimed that protecting endangered species is a violation of the “commerce clause” of the Constitution. The Commerce Clause allows Congress to regulate three broad categories of activity: (1) channels of interstate commerce, (2) instrumentalities of interstate commerce, and (3) activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. The clause gives Congress the power to regulate a wide range of issues affecting interstate commerce, including issues that affect the environment and public health.

In the latest case, agricultural groups argued that Delta smelt in California’s Central Valley could not be protected because they didn’t constitute “interstate commerce.” Defenders filed an “amicus brief” with the court supporting protections for the species, arguing that Delta smelt do affect interstate commerce. And we won. Again.

Though the imperiled fish aren’t necessarily bought and sold across state lines, its long-term survival is vital to the health of the entire ecosystem and clearly has impacts beyond the state’s borders. Protections for Delta smelt ensure there is enough water in rivers and streams, which keeps salmon populations healthy as well as myriad other aquatic and riparian species. The San Francisco Bay-Delta supports not only a robust commercial fishing industry but also countless local farmers, many of whom sell their goods outside of California.

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law by President Nixon in 1973 with strong bipartisan support. Its purpose was to prevent extinction and preserve our nation’s wildlife heritage for future generations of Americans, no matter what state they live in. Even if a species does not have immediate commercial value and does not itself cross state lines, every plant and animal is an integral part of a much larger web of life that sustains us all.

Read more on Defenders’ website and Greenwire (subscription only).



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