In a decision that underscores the regulatory importance of recovery plans, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia invalidated the delisting of the Virginia northern flying squirrel on the grounds that the delisting rule modified delisting criteria in the recovery plan for the squirrel. Friends of Blackwater v. Salazar No. 09-2122 (D.D.C. March 25, 2011). The Court concluded that the Service violated section 4(f) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (requiring notice and comment on recovery plans) by relying on criteria to support delisting that varied from the criteria in the adopted recovery plan.

The court rejected the Service’s argument that the recovery plan merely provided guidance and that the Service could delist a species based on the factors for listing and delisting in section 4(a) of the ESA without first amending the recovery plan. Recovery plans are often ignored by the regulated community. This decision is a reminder that recovery plans have real world consequences.