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Timber Industry Wins Round Against Spotted Owl

Although it may ruffle the feathers of environmentalists, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the timber industry and against the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said a lumber association has standing to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its designation of 9.5 million acres of land as a critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. The decision revives a lawsuit by the American Forest Resource Council that claimed the regulation cut back the industry in California, Oregon, and Washington.

"The Council has demonstrated a substantial probability that the critical habitat designation will cause a decrease in the supply of timber from the designated forest lands, that Council members obtain their timber from those forest lands, and that Council members will suffer economic harm as a result of the decrease in the timber supply from those forest lands," the appellate panel said in Carpenters Industrial Council v. Zinke.

Northern Spotted Owl

The wildlife service listed the northern spotted owl as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. In 2012, the agency issued a rule that identified 9.5 million acres of forestland as a protected habitat for the birds.

The rule included more than 3 million acres of land that had previously been set aside for use by the local lumber industry. The rule effectively limited "clear-cutting" and other uses of the land in the timber business.

The American Forest Resource Council sued, alleging that it would cause its member companies to suffer economic harm. However, the trial court dismissed the case on summary judgment finding that without more damages the council had no standing.

Timber in the Future

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit said the forest council showed sufficient harm for standing. The appeals court said declarations showed a "substantial probability" of future harm.

"Economic harm to a business clearly constitutes an injury-in-fact," the court said, citing Wallace v. Conagra Foods, Inc. "And the amount is irrelevant. A dollar of economic harm is still an injury-in-fact for standing purposes."

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