The United States District Court for the District of Columbia upheld a decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service to exclude an area from the designation of critical habitat for the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow in Florida. Center For Biological Diversity v. Salazar (D.D.C. Mar. 16, 2011) (PDF). While conceding that the excluded area was “essential” to the sparrow’s conservation, the Service decided not to designate the area as critical habitat, in part, because of the conflict between critical habitat and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project.
The court concluded that the “balance between designating a crucial swath of critical habitat for the Sparrow, a single species, and greater flexibility for restoration of the Everglades to benefit the entire ecosystem and its many inhabiting species, is left to the Secretary’s discretion.” Slip Op. at 32. The decision is important because it affirms the Service’s broad discretion under the ESA to weigh and balance economic and environmental costs and benefits in the designation of critical habitat. The Service’s decision here to balance the protection of individual species with a broader ecosystem plan stands in sharp contrast to other recent decisions by the Service to designate critical habitat in areas with approved habitat conservation plans. These other recent critical habitat decisions create a disincentive for landowners to participate in habitat conservation plans.