Landowners sue Fish and Wildlife over critical habitat designation
February 26, 2021
Mobile, Alabama; February 26, 2021: A group of Alabama landowners filed a lawsuit today challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of their property as critical habitat—a decision that substantially reduces their property’s value, triggers burdensome regulatory requirements, and penalizes them for their past conservation efforts.
For generations, the Skipper family has owned forested land in Clarke County, Alabama, which they manage for high-quality timber production and conservation. For 60 years the land was voluntarily enrolled in a state wildlife management area, which allowed public recreation and state conservation efforts.
But in 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the property as critical habitat for the black pinesnake, a species that has been reported in the area only once in the past 25 years. Critical habitat designations significantly reduce land values and can limit future use of property. In issuing its irrational designation of the Skipper family’s land, the Service illegally side-stepped Congress’ requirements that it thoroughly analyze and justify the costs such designations impose on landowners.
“Infringing property rights is no way to encourage conservation,” said Charles Yates, an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation. “For more than half a century the Skippers have responsibly managed their land. Now the Service is penalizing them for it and ignoring the law and best available science in the process.”
“Experts have long observed that, by making rare species and their habitats a liability for landowners rather than an asset, the Endangered Species Act creates perverse incentives that reward preemptive habitat destruction and penalize conservation. For that reason, only 3% of listed species have recovered in the half-century since the law was enacted,” Yates said.
The case aims to build on PLF’s 2018 Supreme Court victory in Weyerhaeuser v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which limited the Fish and Wildlife Service’s power to designate land unoccupied by a species as critical habitat.
Pacific Legal Foundation represents Gray Skipper; Skipper Land Holdings, LLC; Phalyn, LLC; and Forest Landowners Association free of charge. Skipper v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.
Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 14 victories out of 16 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.