9th Circuit upholds habitat designation for Mexican spotted owl

A federal appeals court last week upheld a decision to set aside 8.6 million acres as a habitat for the Mexican spotted owl despite arguments that some areas do not have any owls.

The Arizona Cattle Growers Association said that no owls could be found on large areas of the habitat designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, said there was nothing in the law that required the species be continuously present to earn the "occupied" designation. The judges also dismissed arguments that the federal agency had not properly considered economic impacts when making the listing.

A spokesman for the cattle growers said there would not be an immediate effect on their activities but that it set the precedent for the government to designate any area as a critical habitat. The critical habitat label requires federal agencies to consult with Fish and Wildlife before taking any action, including issuing permits, to make sure it will not destroy the habitat.

The judges acknowledge that the data could be inconclusive and that the total habitat was only used sporadically but that it constituted an area where the owl was most likely to be found. Judge Betty Fletcher, writing for the unanimous three-person panel, added that the intent of the law was to give federal agencies the benefit of the doubt in protecting endangered species (Howard Fischer, Yuma Sun, June 4). -- JP

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