A unanimous Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the Fish and Wildlife Service was wrong to designate a 1,500-acre tract of land in Louisiana as a “critical habitat” for the endangered dusky gopher frog, even though the species has not lived there for decades.
“I am really overjoyed that an eight to nothing court agreed with me that the service’s decision was absurd and nightmarish for property rights in the United States,” landowner Edward Poitevent told The Daily Caller News Foundation in a Tuesday interview.
“We all actually thought something like this would happen, but what’s really stunning is this is an eight to nothing decision,” Poitevent said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service told Poitevent in 2011 his land, which has been in his family for generations, would be listed as backup critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog, which hasn’t been seen there since 1965. The only known domain of the frogs was a single pond in southern Mississippi as of 2001, but the government said the Louisiana zone was the only other possible habitat it could identify.
The government conceded drastic alteration to the land would be needed in order for the gopher frog to survive, including replacing thousands of trees and conducting controlled burns to kill off underbrush.
The government also said designating Poitevent’s land as critical habitat could cost his family as much as $34 million, which doesn’t include the cost to alter the landscape.
Poitevent and others sued, arguing the government could not designate land the frogs do not inhabit as “critical habitat.” They also said the service wrongly ignored the significant economic costs its decision imposed on them.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the federal agency, finding the government was entitled to deference on both points. An appeal to the Supreme Court followed.
Federal officials listed the dusky gopher frog as endangered in 2001 in response to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), an environmental group. The group also worked with the government to oppose Poitevent’s lawsuit.
The Trump administration supported the agency before the high court.