On February 26, 2021, the Forest Landowners Association (FLA), filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of critical habitat for the black pinesnake (Pituophis melanoleucus). The lawsuit alleges that the Service designated areas of critical habitat based on insufficient scientific evidence and without fully taking into account the economic impact on private landowners and forest businesses, as required by law. Pacific Legal Foundation is representing FLA and the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) listed the black pinesnake as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2015. In February of 2020, the Service finalized its designation of over 300,000 acres of critical habitat for the black pinesnake, including 90,000 acres of privately owned land in southwest Alabama and southern Mississippi. The designation of thousands of acres of private land was inappropriately based on isolated sightings of the species. In making the determination to designate one area as critical habitat, the Service based its decision on a single sighting of the snake in the preceding 20 years. To justify its designation of another area, the Service relied on two sightings of the snake in the preceding 23 years, both of which occurred on state-managed land but not on the adjacent privately owned acres that were also included in the designation. FLA advocates for fair and balanced regulations that are rooted in the best available science, but there is simply too little data to support the designation of these lands as critical habitat for this species.

Further, the Service’s analysis of the economic impact that the critical habitat designation would have on private landowners was grossly insufficient. For example, the Service determined that the designation of over 90,000 acres of private land would not have a “significant impact” on the many businesses and landowners that were affected by the designation. The Service also failed to fully consider costs to landowners, including the effect of the designation on land values. FLA knows that the economic impact of a critical habitat designation is very real for private landowners, and these impacts must be considered by the Service in weighing the benefits and costs of a critical habitat designation.

“While FLA’s approach is to find voluntary and collaborative solutions with the Service to conserve species on private lands, we are standing up today for landowners affected by this decision and the precedent it sets for future critical habitat designations on private forestlands,” stated Scott Jones, CEO of Forest Landowners Association. FLA looks forward to continuing our work to build trust and communication between the Service and forest landowners, and we will continue to emphasize to the Service the importance of working with forest landowners to ensure that any regulations do not impede their economically viability, to minimize any critical habitat designation on private lands, and to fully account for the economic impact that a critical habitat designation places on forest landowners.

To read more about the lawsuit, please visit Pacific Legal Foundation’s webpage on the case.

Join FLA and Pacific Legal Foundation on March 11 @ 2:00 pm eastern for a webinar and Q&A session regarding this lawsuit. Register for the webinar here.