WASHINGTON, D.C. Was it the wise protecting the wise? Asked to overturn Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's decision to protect the northern spotted owl, the Supreme Court denied the case without comment. At issue was whether some 6.8 million acres of federal lands in Oregon, Washington, and California could be classified as "critical habitat" by Secretary Babbitt under the Endangered Species Act without first filing environmental impact statements required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Backed by the local timber industry, lawyers for Douglas County in southwestern Oregon said Babbitt couldn't cut that corner. They sued the Interior Secretary along with two environmental groups. A federal judge ruled NEPA compliance was indeed required, but the Ninth Circuit court overruled that decision, saying, the Endangered Species Act allowed Babbitt an exemption from NEPA requirements in the spotted owl case. TIME's Adam Cohen notes that, in denying Douglas County's subsequent appeal, the Supreme Court is not necessarily concurring with the Ninth Circuit. "The court can only take so many cases each year, and it summarily denies thousands routinely," Cohen says. "It could in fact be that the Court disagreed with the Ninth Circuit, but denied the case anyway. The only thing unequivocally true at this point is that Douglas County's case is dead." In other words, Babbitt can proceed.