Court Approves National Marine Fisheries Service Agreement With the National Association of Home Builders
May 7, 2002
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has approved a settlement agreement submitted by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), thereby ending a lawsuit initiated by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). As part of the agreement, NMFS will remove critical habitat designations for 19 West Coast salmon and steelhead populations and begin working on a new critical habitat designation that includes more scientific studies and an analysis of the economic impacts of those designations, as required under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The Court agreed with NAHB's assertion that NMFS used flawed methods to determine the 19 salmon and steelhead populations' critical habitat (i.e., the geographic regions needing the most stringent land and water use regulation and protection). "Clearly, there is a problem with the current process underlying the critical habitat designation process" for endangered and threatened salmon under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly noted in her April 30 approval of the NMFS agreement Kollar-Kotelly also agreed with NAHB's position that the costs of environmental protection for the salmon and steelhead populations were never taken into consideration. "Costs that should be considered in making the critical habitat designation," Kollar-Kotelly wrote, "are left entirely out of the picture."
"Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's decision makes the NMFS settlement agreement official," NAHB President Gary Garczynski said in reaction to the court approval. "Now NAHB will work with NMFS, local governments, environmental organizations and residents in these affected communities to create a critical habitat designation that protects salmon. The agreement means that environmental protection under the Endangered Species Act should be based on the law, sound science, and a consideration of the economic impacts."
NAHB and 16 other groups filed suit against NMFS in November of 1999, asserting that the areas designated as critical habitat by NMFS were "excessive, unduly vague, not justified as essential to conserve the listed species, and not based upon a required analysis of economic impact," as required under the ESA. NAHB also charged that NMFS failed to make a critical habitat designation based on the best available scientific and commercial data and consideration for economic impacts. The designation challenged by NAHB encompasses a geographic region spanning 150 watersheds, river segments, bays and estuaries throughout Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho.