Lewis County, Neighbors Awarded Attorneys Fees for 2012 Northern Spotted Owl Litigation

Decision: $140,000 Split Three Ways Covers Most of Lewis County’s Expenditures


Years after its joint lawsuit over Northern Spotted Owl habitat, Lewis County has accepted a settlement of $140,000 in attorneys fees, split between itself, Skamania County and Klickitat County.

The lawsuit stems back to 2012, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set aside 9.5 million acres across the West Coast for the protection of the threatened species. It was a move Lewis County and its neighbors contended would be detrimental to the economy — arguments repeated in the county’s latest litigation over the owl’s protections.

The settlement was in part influenced by a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling that critical habitat designations must actively serve as habitat for the species.

As part of the settlement, according to Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Eric Eisenberg, Lewis County maintains that it won the suit.

That’s “especially true,” he said, because the Trump administration’s most recent revision of the owls’ critical habitat — the controversial removal of 3.5 million acres — mirrors what Lewis County argued for in its suit.

“It excluded all of the land that Lewis County and Klickitat County and Skamania County had argued to be excluded,” Eisenberg said. “So we got the exact remedy that we were seeking.”

That remedy, however, has since been delayed under President Joe Biden, whose administration has signaled that protections may be reinstated. Lewis County’s newest lawsuit — a joint effort with neighboring counties and the timber industry — seeks to prevent that. Parties are waiting for the results of a motion for summary judgement.

Meanwhile, the $140,000, split three ways, will cover the majority of what the counties spent on the older lawsuit. The cost of the suit, according to Eisenberg, was “not as high as you would expect.”