(CN) – California builders lost their bid to free up 850,000 acres of land designated by the government as critical habitat for 15 endangered or threatened wetland species.
A 9th Circuit panel ruled that none of the alleged deficiencies in the government’s wetlands designation interfered with the decision to preserve the land. The designation was challenged by the Home Builders Association of Northern California and other building groups seeking to develop the land.
The San Francisco-based panel ruled that 15 threatened or endangered species, including crustaceans, amphibians and plants, that depend on the vernal pools of wetlands in Oregon’s Agate Desert and throughout central and southern California will remain protected under a designation made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Builders challenged the designation in federal court, where a judge ruled that the government had met all its requirements when setting aside the land as protected habitat.
The 9th Circuit upheld the lower court’s ruling on appeal, concluding that the agency had properly evaluated the area’s vernal pools, which are a unique type of wetland ecosystem that appear annually in the spring and vanish by fall.
“To survive years in which no pool develops due to low rainfall, vernal pool species have developed a dormant stage: vernal pool plant seeds can remain viable for several years and the fertilized egg of a vernal pool crustacean can remain viable for ten years or more,” the ruling states.
The panel ruled that all of the designated land was necessary, though not every portion contains all of the requirements for the species’ survival. Specifically, some areas are feeding grounds while others are used for breeding.
The circuit court also supported the designation as a way to protect the plants and animals in the future, which the association argued was not a requirement for designation.
“A seller of sporting goods should be able to identify which rod and reel are essential to catching a largemouth bass, but is not expected to predict when the customer will catch one,” Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer wrote.