For the second time in two months, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected an industry challenge to a designation of critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  In Home Builders Association of Northern California v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service (PDF), the court upheld the designation of 858,000 acres of land in California as critical habitat for fifteen vernal pool species.

The ESA prohibits federal agencies from approving actions that “adversely modify” critical habitat.  The court rejected Home Builders’ claim that the ESA limited the designation of critical habitat to those areas that contain all (rather than some) of the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the vernal pool species. The court also rejected the claim that, in designating critical habitat, the Fish and Wildlife Service is required to determine when the protected species are required to be conserved.  Following its recent decision in Arizona Cattle Growers’ Assn. v. Salazar, 606 F.3d 1160 (9th Cir.  2010), the court upheld the Service’s analysis of the economic impacts of the critical habitat designation.  The court concluded that, unlike the National Environmental Policy Act, the ESA does not require the Fish and Wildlife Service to evaluate cumulative impacts of the critical habitat designation.