(CN) – Developers of privately owned wetlands in California did not violate federal law by digging up and moving an endangered plant species, the 9th Circuit ruled, because the wetlands are not under federal jurisdiction.
Northern California River Watch accused brothers and business partners William and Frank Schellinger and three employees of the California Department of Fish and Game of violating the Endangered Species Act by digging up Sebastopol meadowfoam plants and removing them from privately owned wetlands in Sebastopol, Calif.
The brothers were seeking to develop 21 acres of the property.
A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, concluding that River Watch could not establish that the areas containing the Sebastopol meadowfoam plants were under federal jurisdiction, although they were near wetlands protected by the Clean Water Act (CWA).
A three-judge appellate panel in San Francisco agreed.
The 9th Circuit said the property’s proximity to federally protected waters doesn’t qualify the wetlands as “areas under federal jurisdiction.”
“We thus interpret ‘areas under federal jurisdiction’ as not including all of the ‘waters of the United States’ as defined by the CWA and its regulations,” Judge Richard Paez wrote.