(CN) – The 9th Circuit rejected the cattle industry’s challenge to the 8.6 million acres of critical habitat designated for the Mexican spotted owl. The Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association claimed the owl can’t be found on some of the land in Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
The cattle association challenged the district court’s decision to uphold the designation of 8.6 million acres of critical habitat for the spotted owl, arguing that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unlawfully designated as “occupied” areas with no owls.
The spotted owl’s listing as threatened in 1993 triggered litigation over how to protect the owl and how much protection the bird was entitled to. The government issued its final designation of 8.6 million acres in 2004, a decision that the district court upheld.
On appeal, a three-judge panel for the 9th Circuit ruled that the agency had interpreted the word “occupied” as closely as possible to the definition given by the Endangered Species Act when determining what land the owl resides on, where it is likely to breed and what areas offer potentially suitable habitat for the owl in the future.
“This definition recognizes that a species need not be present continuously for habitat to considered ‘occupied,'” Judge Betty Fletcher wrote for the San Francisco-based panel.
The cattle company also claimed that the agency had incorrectly analyzed the impact of the designation, but the panel disagreed.
The ruling cemented the designation of land for the owl in Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. The designation will limit the removal of forest cover through logging, cattle grazing, urban sprawl or power lines.