U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Issues New Bighorn Sheep Critical Habitat Designation in Response to Nossaman Lawsuit
Orange County, CA (April 27, 2009) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has revised the land designated as critical habitat for the Peninsular bighorn sheep. The revised critical habitat designation was prompted by a lawsuit brought by Nossaman on behalf of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The revised critical habitat designation excludes the Agua Caliente Tribal land and reaffirms the special obligation of the federal government to respect the right of tribal governments to mange tribal resources. The rule designates 376,938 of acres of critical habitat in San Diego, Riverside, and Imperial counties in southern California.
The revised critical habitat designation also has important implications for other landowners in the range of the bighorn sheep. "The rule adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Service reduced the area previously designated as critical habitat by more than 50 percent. The revised critical habitat designation reflects the extraordinary conservation efforts of the Tribe on behalf of the bighorn sheep and the protections provided to the bighorn sheep by other regional conservation programs," said Nossaman attorney Paul Weiland. Nossaman partners Robert Thornton and Paul Weiland represented the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in the litigation.
Mr. Weiland said, "the revised critical habitat designation reaffirms the important legal principle that the federal government has special trust relationship with tribal governments and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to respect tribal sovereignty in the implementation of the Endangered Species Act."