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Contact: Damien M. Schiff
Principal Attorney
Pacific Legal Foundation
(916) 419-7111

Feds will consider dropping ESA listing of Orca,
in response to PLF petition

Sacramento, CA; November 26, 2012:  Federal officials announced today that they will begin a one-year review to consider dropping the Pacific Northwest’s killer whales, or Orcas, from the Endangered Species Act list, in response to a “delisting petition” from Pacific Legal Foundation.

The review will be undertaken because PLF’s petition contains substantial information warranting the delisting of the Orcas in the marine waters of the Pacific Northwest, according to today’s announcement from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Fisheries.

Submitted in August, 2012, PLF’s petition noted there is no scientific basis for treating the region’s Orcas as fundamentally distinct from other Orcas, which may be the most widely distributed mammals, found in all parts of the oceans and in most seas from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

The petition also points out that the listing threatens economic harm for millions of people. 

Feds’ announcement is “a step forward for sound science ― and rational regulations”

Damien Shiff, PLF Principal Attorney
Damien M. Schiff
Principal Attorney 

“The federal government’s announcement today is good news for everyone who believes that environmental policy should be based on honesty and sound science,” said PLF Principal Attorney Damien M. Schiff.  “When a species as a whole isn’t endangered, government can’t pretend otherwise by narrowly focusing on one arbitrarily chosen region.  The feds can’t regulate by zip code.  They have to look at the entire population of the species. 

“In order to label the Orca as endangered, regulators had to invent a new sub-category of Orca in the Pacific Northwest,” Schiff continued.  “There is no scientifically significant difference between the Orcas in that region and anywhere else.  There is no taxonomically significant distinction in genetics, biology, or behavior.  Our petition points out these facts.  It’s encouraging ― it’s a step forward for sound science and rational regulations ― that federal officials are saying that our petition makes a strong case and the listing must be reconsidered.

“The Orca listing isn’t just bad science, it’s also bad for the economy,” Schiff said.  “Among those hurt by unjustified federal Orca regulations are farmers and communities as far away as California’s San Joaquin Valley, and even the population of Southern California.  One of the reasons for federal limits on the pumping of water to these regions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, has been to regulate for fish that are part of the Orca’s food supply.

“We simply can’t permit unjustified ESA listings to cause economic dislocation for families, farms, businesses, and communities.” 

The petitioners:  farmers who are impacted, and CESAR, an organization dedicated to scientific rigor in environmental regs

In the petition, PLF represents two farms that are among the thousands of farms and communities in Central and Southern California whose water supplies are threatened by regulations due in part to the Orca listing.  PLF also represents CESAR, a nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific rigor in environmental regulations.

The petitioners are as follows: 

Empresas Del Bosque

Located on the west side of Fresno and Merced Counties in the San Joaquin Valley, Empresas Del Bosque farms 2,200 acres of cantaloupes, organic cantaloupes, almonds, asparagus, cherries, wheat, and processing tomatoes.  It has 18 full-time employees, and hires up to 300 more persons on a seasonal basis.  Water from the San Luis Water District is vital for Empresas Del Bosque, as all its crops are irrigated.

The district has experienced water reductions in recent years, the worst occurring in 2009 when the district only received a 10 percent allocation.  That low allocation was in part due to regulations stemming from the biological opinions for the Orca, salmon, Delta smelt, and other species, under the ESA.  As a result, Empresas Del Bosque idled about 900 acres and lost about $1.5 million in revenue, forcing it to cut back workers’ hours per week by a third.

Coburn Ranch

Coburn Ranch is a family farm in Fresno County that raises almonds, wine grapes, and various row crops.  The Ranch currently has 4,000 acres in production.  It has 21 full-time employees, and a handful of seasonal employees.  The ranch farms in several water districts, including the Chowchilla and Westlands Water Districts.

Coburn Ranch has ceased all development of land in the San Joaquin Valley federal water districts, in part because of water cutbacks attributable to ESA regulations stemming from the biological opinions for the Orca, salmon, Delta smelt, and other species.  Since the water cutbacks of 2009, a $6 million expansion planned for the ranch’s almond processing plant has been put on indefinite hold.  Until the restrictive water-pumping regulations are ended ― which will require, among other things, the delisting of the Orca ― Coburn Ranch will be at a stand-still in development and job creation. 


CESAR (the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability) is a California nonprofit corporation whose primary purpose is to bring scientific rigor to environmental regulatory decisions, and to ensure consistent application of environmental statutes throughout all industries and sectors.  CESAR believes this will generate additional support for environmental statutes, because regulatory actions will be transparent and supported by science. 

As the petition reports, “CESAR believes that these goals will be furthered by delisting the Southern Resident killer whale DPS, for three related reasons.  First, the delisting will ensure that the National Marine Fisheries Service abides by Congress’s limitation of the Service’s listing power to species, subspecies, and DPSs of species.  Second, the delisting will ensure that the Service not be allowed to cherrypick populations for listing within subspecies that show no danger of extinction.  Third, the delisting will ensure that the Service truly follow the commands of best available scientific data by protecting only those populations the taxonomy of which is legitimate rather than a product of politicized science.  Realization of these goals is all the more important now, given that the water cutbacks in California’s San Joaquin Valley have been due in part to ESA protections afforded the Southern Resident killer whale DPS.”

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation ( is the leading watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulation, in courts across the country.

PLF attorneys recently won their sixth direct-representation case at the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging overreaching government regulations:  Sackett v. EPA.  PLF’s latest direct- representation case at the U.S. Supreme Court, for property rights and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, is Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District.  Oral argument in Koontz will be held at the Supreme Court on January 15, 2013.