June 3, 2010

Putting critical habitat on trial

By Putting critical habitat on trial

Author:  Damien M. Schiff250px-Vernal_Pools_2

Next week, I'll be arguing PLF's appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Home Builders Association of Northern California v. United States Fish & Wildlife Service.  The case concerns the Service's near million-acre critical habitat designation for over a dozen vernal pool species (vernal pools are ephemeral ponds common in the savannah-like grasslands of California's San Joaquin Valley).  The case is important not just for the immediate issues at hand, but also because it will give the Ninth Circuit an opportunity to rule on a major district court victory that PLF scored a few years ago concerning the Alameda Whipsnake critical habitat.  (Read more about that case here.)

Fighting back against excessive and arbitrary critical habitat designations has been a major component of PLF's Endangered Species Act Reform Project.  The ESA generally requires that critical habitat be designated for all listed species, and provides a precise definition for what type of habitat qualifies as "critical."  Perhaps not surprisingly, the Service has routinely glossed over the fine points of critical habitat and has designated much land as critical habitat that, in reality, is far from essential for the species' recovery.  By the vernal pool critical habitat appeal, PLF hopes to obtain the Ninth Circuit's imprimatur on the Alameda Whipsnake decision's rigorous standards for critical habitat designation.

UPDATE

For those interested, here is the link to the audio of yesterday's oral argument in the Ninth Circuit.

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