District Court Upholds Pygmy Owl De-Listing
Years of legal wrangling over the pygmy owl have resulted in yet another decision that favors housing affordability and rejects interference from interest groups that would make wide swaths of land unavailable for development, cost millions of dollars and offer no environmental benefit, NAHB said.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on March 9 upheld a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to remove the pygmy owl from the list of endangered species, agreeing that the owls living in Arizona are not a separate species and rejecting a petition from the Defenders of Wildlife. In its ruling, the court agreed with NAHB that building new homes will not hurt the population of the owl, which thrives across the border in Mexico.
Last week’s opinion follows a landmark ruling from the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, the most environmentally conscious court in the nation, which determined in 2003 that the initial decision to list pygmy owls was “arbitrary and capricious.”
“We’ve been mired in this argument for 10 years. It’s time for everyone to concede that there is no environmental benefit to the listing, and I am glad the court concurred,” said NAHB President Brian Catalde. “We all agree that endangered species should be protected, but this effort to set aside an unprecedented habitat for an owl that enjoys a wide range to the south and is found there in large numbers was a costly mistake from the outset.”
In Arizona, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that 1.2 million acres be set aside as so-called critical habitat for the owl, imposing excessive costs and regulation on home construction. Four years ago, NAHB economists estimated that this unnecessary critical habitat designation would have cut residential construction in the Tucson area by 262 homes annually, reduced local economic activity by $545 million over a 10-year period and deprived local governments of $68.3 million in tax and permit revenue. The designation would have cost 705 jobs in the first year alone and 2,750 over 10 years.
“Litigating cases like these costs thousands and thousands of dollars,” Catalde continued. “But allowing such unjustified designations to stand would be even more costly. The big losers would be the residents of the state who would see home prices and taxes rise and jobs disappear. With this decision, the courts are sending a clear message that the pygmy owl listing is unjustified and it’s time to move forward.”
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.