The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a challenge to whether the government can designate private land used for timber operations in Louisiana as critical habitat for the endangered dusky gopher frog found in Mississippi.
The case stems from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decision to designate 1,544 acres in Louisiana as a critical habitat for the frog that lives underground in open-canopied pine forests.
Though the dusky gopher frog hasn’t occupied the land in decades, the government said it’s considered a historic breeding site.
Weyerhaeuser Company, which planned to use the land for residential and commercial development, as well as timber operations, challenged the designation.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with FWS in upholding the classification despite the landowners' argument that it will prohibit them from future development and result in lost property value.
"Misconceptions exist about how critical-habitat designations impact private property," the court said." Critical-habitat designations do not transform private land into wildlife refuges."
The court also said the designation does not force private landowners to introduce endangered species onto their land or to make modifications to their land.
“In short, a critical-habitat designation alone does not require private landowners to participate in the conservation of an endangered species,” the court said.
Attorneys for the Weyerhaeuser Company argue the FWS has abused its power under the Endangered Species Act. They claim the property is uninhabitable by the frog barring a radical change in the land’s use by its private owners.
"The landowners thus face the Catch-22 that they can continue forestry operations on the frogless land largely unhindered by the designation," they wrote.
"But if they try to develop the land consistent with their plans and current zoning, the designation may well stop the development in its tracks — which again would not help the frog. Either way, the designation destroys economic activity, leaves the land as unoccupied non-habitat, and does nothing to help the frog."
The dusky gopher frog has been listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act since 2001.