In a big departure from previous interpretation of the federal Endangered Species Act, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that critical habitat designated for a threatened or endangered species must be actual habitat for that species, not simply adjacent habitat or areas that may be suitable for habitat.

Currently, critical habitat may include areas that are not occupied by a listed species, but may be designated if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines the areas are “essential for conservation of the species.”  The ruling not only limits the Service’s ability to designate critical habitat in the future, but also opens up challenges to past designations that have economic impacts on the regulated community.  The ruling can be viewed on the Court’s website here.