A St. Tammany Parish property owner whose use of his land was restricted by the federal government to protect an endangered frog species said Thursday he is fighting a “radical injustice” and hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will agree with him.
Edward Poitevent, one of the owners of a 1,500-acre tract near Pearl River, said the government gave him no warning and stymied his attempts to understand its rationale when it designated his land as a critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog. The designation, he said, has cost him millions in potential earnings.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear his appeal on Oct. 1, after two lower courts sided with the government.
"If this decision is not reversed, the federal government will be able to take anybody's land for any reason," Poitevent said during a press conference in New Orleans.
The dusky gopher frog will be at the center of one of the first cases before the nation's nine — or eight — highest justices when their new te…
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the designation of the land in 2012 even though the dusky gopher frog, an endangered species, hasn't been seen in St. Tammany Parish since at least 1965.
Currently, only a few dozen of the frogs remain, confined to a few small areas in Mississippi. Environmentalists and the government have argued that if the frogs are to make a comeback, they will need seasonal ponds found in St. Tammany in order to reproduce.
Whether 1,500 acres of St. Tammany Parish woodlands will be preserved as habitat for the dusky gopher frog or used to harvest timber will hing…
The case has drawn interest from a number of disparate entities on both sides. The attorneys general of more than a dozen states have filed amicus briefs siding with the land owners, arguing that the Fish and Wildlife Service overstepped its bounds when it designated the land as critical habitat.
Meanwhile, some other landowners, environmental-law experts, economists and former leaders of the Department of the Interior have jumped in on the government's side, arguing that the designation is based on science and has good precedent.
Permitting the government to limit the way such land can be used is in the public interest and can even result in an increase in its value, they said.
“All across the country landowners choose to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect endangered wildlife while still keeping their lands in business," said Collette Adkins, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. The center has intervened in the suit on behalf of the government.
“I just don't understand why the owners of the St. Tammany lands seem dead-set on dooming this endangered frog to extinction,” Adkins said.
Mark Miller, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, said the case is not aimed at all aspects of the Endangered Species Act, the law that provides the federal government with the ability to restrict Poitevent’s land uses.
"We all support the Endangered Species Act," Miller said. "We don't fight the government; we fight government overreach.”
While the critical-habitat designation does not prevent Poitevent from developing the land, which is under long-term lease to a timber company until 2043, it creates more hurdles to development. Poitevent also argues that major changes to the land will need to be made in order for it to support the frog.
He said that for the frog to inhabit his property, the current loblolly pine forest there would have to be cut down and the land replanted with longleaf pine trees, which would take years to mature.
The Supreme Court's decision in the case could hinge on whether nominee Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate in time for him to hear the case on Oct. 1, the first day of the court's new session.