The U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped Tuesday an opportunity to review a lower court decision that upheld the designation of millions of acres of land as critical habitat for the threatened Mexican spotted owl.
The denial of a petition for certiorari came in a case filed by cattle ranchers in the southwest.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in June 2010 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had provided a valid economic analysis in support of the designation and did not violate the Endangered Species Act by including in the designation land that did not contain any owls.
In general, the ESA requires USFWS to designate critical habitat for a listed species at the time of listing.
In the case of the Mexican spotted owl, the administration of former President George W. Bush designated 8.6 million acres in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah as critical habitat in 2004.
The species was added to the list of threatened and endangered species in 1993. A previous critical habitat designation by the Clinton administration was withdrawn in 1998.
The Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) is the smallest of the spotted owl species, which include the California spotted owl and the northern spotted owl. The species lives in old growth forests in mountains and canyons located in a range extending from southern Utah and Colorado through Arizona and New Mexico and into west Texas and northern and central Mexico.
A predatory animal, Mexican spotted owls are nocturnal. Climate change is the most significant risk to their forest habitat.
The case is Arizona Cattle Growers Association v. Salazar.
Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.