Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Marbled Murrelet v. Pacific Lumber Co.

ELR Citation: 26 ELR 20990
Nos. C91-522BR, 918 F. Supp. 318/42 ERC 1637/(W.D. Wash., 02/29/1996)

The court holds that an appropriations bill rider rescinding money from and limiting expenditures for species listing and critical habitat designation programs under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) does not relieve the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) of its obligation to comply with a court-imposed deadline for designating marbled murrelet critical habitat. The court first holds that the rider's clear and unambiguous language provides that in cases involving an existing court order requiring final designation of critical habitat, FWS must comply with the order unless it can establish that the rider makes the designation impracticable. The court next holds that federal defendants' contention that this language applies only to nonfinal ESA actions and not to final determinations is unsupported by the rider's plain language. The court also holds that the rider's general intent and its "impracticable" qualification are not inherently contradictory. The court further holds that the federal defendants failed to meet their burden of proving impracticability. In the face of a court order with a firm deadline, federal defendants do not have the option of favoring other priorities, nor can they decide after four years that the critical habitat designation process for the marbled murrelet is too complicated and expensive to complete because they must embark on new studies.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Victor M. Sher
Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund
705 Second Ave., Ste. 203, Seattle WA 98104
(206) 343-7340

Counsel for Defendants
Richard B. Stewart
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000