SCOTUS Endangered Species Act Decision Suggests More Probing Judicial Review of Agency Critical Habitat Designations
Late last month the Supreme Court of the United States kept alive private landowners’ challenge to a final rule that designated their land as “critical habitat” for the endangered Dusky Gopher Frog. Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serv., No. 17-71, 2018 WL 6174253 at *6 (2018) (slip opn.). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the 1544-acre parcel in Louisiana—known as “Unit 1”—after it found the site “essential for the conservation of the species.” Id. The District Court and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals deferred to the Service’s conclusion and upheld the designation. Id. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded. Id. at *7–8, 10. Focusing on the text of the Endangered Species Act, the Court held that: (1) a proposed site must be “habitat” for an endangered species before the Service can designate it as “habitat that is critical,” and (2) federal courts should review for an abuse of discretion the Service’s decision not to exclude a site from designation. Id.