United States of America
On June 26, 1990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the "FWS") published a final rule, listing the northern spotted owla medium-sized nocturnal bird that inhabits old-growth forestsas a "threatened species" under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"). In 1992, the FWS then designated 6,887,000 acres in California, Oregon, and Washington as critical habitat for the owl. Seventeen years after this designation, however, the FWS, based on guidance provided by the Washington Oversight Committee, issued a revised draft recovery plan for the owl, replacing the 1992 Critical Habitat Designation. Displeased with the new designation. Plaintiffs, Carpenters Industrial Council, among several, averred that the FWS, in designating the owl as a "threatened species," violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the ESA, and the Administrative Procedure Act. Defendant, the FWS, confess legal error as to the northern spotted owls 2008 Critical Habitat Designation and 2008 Recovery Plan and ask that the court: (1) remand and vacate the 2008 Designation; (2) remand the 2008 Plan; and (3) order the FWS to revise its recovery plan and, if necessary, thereafter complete a new critical habitat designation. First, as to Defendants request to remand the designation, the court held that it, in fact, has such authority to do so, and such action is moreover appropriate, since the Washington Oversight Committee erred in proffering "jeopardizing" advice to the FWS. However, as to the whether the 2008 Designation may be vacated, the court concluded that it lacked the authority to do so "at this stage of the litigation," since there had not yet been an independent determination that the FWSs action was not in accordance with the law. Next, as to whether the 2008 Recovery Plan may be vacated, the court held that, given the interconnectedness of the 2008 Designation and the 2008 Plan, remand is appropriate. Finally, concerning whether revision of the 1992 Critical Habitat Designation is appropriate, the Court concluded: "[T]his requestwhich was premised upon vacatur of the 2008 Critical Habitat Designation[is now] moot in light of the Court's ruling on the issue of vacatur".