Carpenters Industrial Council v. Zinke, No. 15-5304, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 6175 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 13, 2017).
In 2012, the USFWS issued a final rule designating 9.5 million acres of federal forest lands in California, Oregon, and Washington—an area twice the size of the state of New Jersey—as critical habitat for the northern spotted owl, making it effectively off-limits for timber harvesting. The northern spotted owl is a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, which makes it necessary for the Agency to designate critical habitat for it. Several lumber companies that obtain timber from those forest lands challenged the designation through a trade association, the Carpenters Industrial Council.
The threshold issue was whether the plaintiff had standing to sue on behalf of its members. The D.C. Circuit unanimously reversed the lower court’s decision, and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that standing existed because the Plaintiffs had” demonstrated a substantial probability that the critical habitat designation will cause a decrease in the supply of timber from the designated forest lands,” and stating that plaintiffs would “suffer economic harm as a result of the decrease in timber supply from those forest lands.”
In its opinion, the court explained that it used what it called the “common sense” approach to determine whether the plaintiff had demonstrated economic harm. The court applied a three-part test to consider whether there was a substantial probability that: (1) the challenged action would cause a decrease in supply of raw material from a source; (2) the plaintiff’s member manufacturers obtain raw material from that source; and (3) the plaintiff’s members will suffer economic harm from a decrease in the supply of raw material from that source.
The April 2017 decision means that the parties and the lower court may proceed to the merits of the case. The Service’s request for rehearing was denied on June 29, 2017 and the District Court is now considering motions to intervene filed on both sides of the case. See Carpenters Industrial Council et. al. v. Zinke, Case No. 1:13-cv-00361-RJL (D. D.C.).
Significance of the case:
The district court’s decision is notable because it suggests that one of the significant factors in its decision was the size of the area affected by the designation. In its opinion, the court repeatedly noted the large area of the critical habitat designation (twice the size of New Jersey) and the significance of designating so much land.
- Carpenters Industrial Council v. Zinke, No. 15-5304, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 6175 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 13, 2017)