Two statewide snowmobile associations challenged the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2009 final rule designating critical habitat for the contiguous United States distinct population segment of the Canada lynx on the grounds the Service violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In an order (PDF) dated September 10, 2010, the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming rejected plaintiffs’ NEPA claims but concurred with plaintiffs that certain lands were designated as critical habitat in the final rule due to the Service’s failure to conduct a full analysis of the economic impacts of the rule.
The Service listed (PDF) the Canada lynx as threatened in 2000. The range of the species spans 14 states from Maine to Washington. In its final rule, the Service designated approximately 39,000 square miles of land as critical habitat. Under the ESA, critical habitat is defined to include the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species on which are found those physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species and which may require special management considerations or protection.
Plaintiffs argued that the final rule violates the ESA because lands were designated as critical habitat that (1) lacked primary constituent elements (PCEs) necessary for conservation of the species and (2) do not require special management considerations or protection. With respect to the first issue, plaintiffs argued that boreal forest landscapes subject to wildfires that altered their successional phase lacked the requisite PCE. But the court sided with the Service noting that the areas in question were actually occupied by lynx and refusing to second guess the Service’s decision that the forest fires did not remove the PCE. With respect to the second issue, plaintiffs argued that certain lands do not require special management considerations or protection because they are protected under the Lynx Conservation Assessment Strategy (LCAS), which applied on federal lands. But the court concurred with the Service that the mere fact that lands are managed under the LCAS is not determinative and held that the Service provided a reasoned analysis for its decision.
In addition, plaintiffs argued that the final rule violates the ESA because the Service failed to give proper consideration to economic considerations in making its decision. The court concluded that the Service conducted a full economic analysis but questioned whether the Service considered that analysis in making its decision. The court concluded that the Service failed to follow procedures required by law by refusing to give "careful thought" to the implications of its economic analysis. The court enjoined the rule in part pending full analysis of all economic impacts by the Service.