Timber groups can’t intervene in Endangered Species Act litigation over red tree voles because a federal judge said they lack a “significantly protectable interest” in the case.

In 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined it’s not warranted to list the red tree vole as threatened or endangered, which would have provided protections for the species and its habitat in Northwest Oregon.

The Center for Biological Diversity and several other environmental nonprofits challenged the decision, arguing the rodents are in danger of extinction from habitat loss caused by logging and other factors.

The Fish and Wildlife Service had previously considered the vole a “candidate” species for ESA protection.

However, the agency “dismissed and disregarded” its own findings that wildfire and inadequate regulations pose an “existential threat” to the species, the plaintiffs argue.

“Despite previously recognizing multiple times, over the course of nearly a decade, that the tree vole has been eliminated from most of its historic range due to the logging of its old-growth habitat and wildfire, the not-warranted finding concludes the tree vole is not at risk of extinction because it survives in two isolated pockets of federal land,” the groups claim.

The Oregon Forest & Industries Council and the American Forest Resource Council asked to intervene in the case, which would have allowed the timber organizations to participate in arguments over the vole’s status.

The groups said that if the environmental lawsuit is successful, it would force the “suspension, modification, or cancellation of current timberland management and operations” and affect the “availability of timber for future harvests.”

The timber organizations also claimed their interests won’t be adequately represented by the Fish and Wildlife Service, which has “generalized administrative responsibilities to the public” but isn’t invested in having a “reliable timber supply.”

“Even if the United States and the councils both seek to defend the FWS’ decision that listing of the red tree vole is ‘not warranted,’ the parties’ ultimate goals are distinct and the Councils have interests that are not shared by FWS,” the groups said.

U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez in Portland has now denied their motion to intervene because the lawsuit focuses on whether the listing decision should be reconsidered — even if the plaintiffs win, the vole’s status wouldn’t automatically change.

“Thus, the result of this litigation would not have a direct, immediate, or harmful effect on councils or their members,” Hernandez said.

Even if the Fish and Wildlife Service decides that ESA protections for red tree voles are warranted, the timber groups would have a chance to weigh in on that decision, he said. “Councils would have the opportunity to protect their interests at that point by participating in the administrative process before the proposed rule is adopted.”

The judge said the timber organizations “fail to make a compelling case” that the government won’t represent their interests and said their arguments over the vole’s status “will only complicate the issue.”

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I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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