Judge Richard Leon of the D.C. District Court vacated his approval of the consent decree entered on July 2, 2002 in the red-legged frog critical habitat case reinstating the original critical habitat protections (4.4 million acres) for the California red legged frog.
The Court has ordered the Plaintiffs and Defendants to file their responses to environmentalist’s objections by July 31. Earthjustice will then have until August 14 to reply, after which point the Court will take the matter under submission.
On July 2, Judge Leon had prematurely signed off on a “proposed settlement” negotiated in secret by FWS officials in Washington with the Homebuilders, wherein the agency agreed to eliminate most of the critical habitat protections previously approved for the frog until such time as it could redo the analysis (with the exception of two recovery units that are primarily National Forest lands and are of no value to developers). Conservation groups were not party to these settlement negotiations, and despite the court’s earlier decision granting them formal intervenor status, were not allowed to comment on the proposed settlement nor to have their comments considered fairly and impartially by the court.
“Now that the court is once again allowing input from all sides, we can only hope that Judge Leon will listen with an open mind and make a fair and impartial decision based on the merits of the arguments and in accordance with the law,” said Michael Sherwood of Earthjustice who is representing the environmental groups.
The Homebuilders claim that the economic analysis underlying the original critical habitat decision was inadequate and failed to account for all of the costs associated with the designation. They sought to completely invalidate the rule. Conservation groups have stated that they have no problem redoing the economic analysis, but feel that the existing rule should stay in place until better data are available to support any revisions.
“Only three sites in California remain that support more than 300 frogs. It is scientifically indefensible that none of these sites would be protected as critical habitat under this “sweetheart deal” put forward by the FWS,” stated Stack “These bureaucrats in Washington not only failed to follow the law, but in their zest to please the builders they essentially ignored the scientific findings of their own hard-working staff in Sacramento.”
Environmental groups represented in the objections include: Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, Jumping Frog Reseach Institute, Pacific Rivers Council, and Sierra Club.