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Carpenters Industrial Council et al. v. Salazar

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Challenge to Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan and 2008 critical habitat revision.


COURT INFORMATION:  U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, No. 1:08-cv-1409-EGS

CLIENTS (Plaintiff-Intervenors)Seattle Audubon Society, National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, Oregon Wild, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, EPIC, Conservation Northwest, Audubon Society of Portland, National Audubon Society, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Klamath Forest Alliance, Conservation Congress, American Bird Conservancy, Umpqua Watersheds, and Gifford-Pinchot Task Force

PLAINTIFFS:  Carpenters Industrial Council, American Forest Resource Council, Swanson Group, Inc., Rough & Ready Lumber Co., Perpetua Forests Company, and Seneca Jones Timber Company

DEFENDANTS:  Ken Salazar, Secretary of Interior, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  

STATUS:  In response to a federal court order obtained by WFLC, Earthjustice, and many other groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued its Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl on June 30, 2011.  The new plan is the result of six years of litigation designed to force the Service to comply with the Endangered Species Act and plan for the recovery of northern spotted owls. The Service published the final Revised Critical Habitat Rule for the Northern Spotted Owl on November 21, 2012. 



The Washington Forest Law Center is co-counsel with Earthjustice on a challenge to two decisions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that impact northern spotted owls – the final northern spotted owl recovery plan (issued May 13, 2008) and the final revised designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl (issued August 13, 2008). 

      Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS)                

The final northern spotted owl recovery plan disregarded the best available science in order to shrink the old-growth reserves established in the Northwest Forest Plan.  Similarly, the revised northern spotted owl critical habitat designation shrinks protected habitat by 1.6 million acres (about 23% of currently protected habitat). 

Because the Service relied on the recovery plan as justification for the critical habitat revisions, and because the critical habitat revisions provide an on-the-ground example of flaws in the recovery plan, our conservation group clients challenged both together. 

This lawsuit is important not only because the Service so significantly curtailed the critical habitat of the northern spotted owl, but also because the recovery plan implicates the integrity of the scientific process that should be the core of the Service’s endangered species program.                 

On March 31, 2009, the federal defendants informed the court that they would seek a voluntary remand of the recovery plan and the 2008 critical habitat revision because a Department of the Interior investigative report concluded that Bush administration officials inappropriately meddled in those decisions (read the April 1, 2009 Seattle Times article, "Obama administration wants new spotted-owl plan").  The federal defendants have since moved for voluntary remand and vacatur of the challenged decisions.  

The plaintiff-intervenor conservation groups support the government’s position and filed a motion seeking entry of an agreed order that would remand the recovery plan and set a schedule for its revision; vacate the 2008 critical habitat revision and reinstate the original 1992 critical habitat designation; and name plaintiff-intervenors prevailing parties entitled to costs and attorneys’ fees. 

On September 1, 2010, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must revisit a recovery plan and critical habitat designation for northern spotted owls. This decision is the first step to restoring critical habitat protections to approximately 1.6 million acres of old growth on federal land in Oregon, Washington and California.  The new recovery plan should also affect state and federal government policies and actions relating to protection of the old growth forests that spotted owls and other forest wildlife depend upon.

Read the opinion and order.


Read Plaintiff-Intervenors' Intervention Motion here.

Read Plaintiff-Intervenors' Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief here.


Read the April 17, 2009 Crosscut article, “Back to the drawing board on spotted owls

Read the Nov. 25, 2008 Seattle Times article, "Groups challenge plan for spotted-owl recovery"  

Read the Nov. 24, 2008 press release, “Conservation Groups Move to Rebuild Spotted Owl Population and Protect Old-Growth Forests