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Fund for Animals v. Hall

August 31, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document Nos. 47, 50, 51




This case comes before the court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. The plaintiffs allege that the Fish and Wildlife Service (the "FWS") violated the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321, et seq., and the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 706 et seq. Specifically, the plaintiffs claim that the defendants failed to analyze the cumulative effects of increased hunting prior to issuing six final agency rules initiating or expanding sport hunting in thirty-seven National Wildlife Refuges. Because the defendants did not consider the cumulative impacts of increased hunting, the court grants the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and denies the defendants' and defendant- intervenors' motions for summary judgment.


A. Factual Background

First established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, the National Wildlife Refuge System (the "refuge system") consists of over 500 wildlife refuges, with locations in all fifty states. Compl. ¶ 81; Defs.' Opp'n to Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J. and Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. ("Defs.' Opp'n") at 6. Congress designed the Refuge System to "administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans." Compl. ¶ 83 (citing 16 U.S.C. § 668dd(a)).

Since the refuge system's inception, Congress has gradually authorized the practice of recreational activities in the refuges, including sport hunting. Compl. ¶ 85; Defs.' Opp'n at 9. Congress has simultaneously attempted to mitigate the detrimental effects of increased recreational use of the refuges. For example, in 1997, Congress enacted the National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act, to "ensure that opportunities are provided within the System for compatible wildlife dependent recreation," including "fishing and hunting." Defs.' Opp'n. at 9 (citing 16 U.S.C. § 668dd(a)). At the same time, however, the FWS must still "provid[e] for the conservation of fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats," "monitor[] the status and trends of fish, wildlife, and plants in each refuge," and "ensure[] the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of the system." 16 U.S.C. § 668dd(a)(3)-(4); Compl. ¶ 97.

To ensure compliance with the 1997 Act, the FWS reviews its recreational programs annually to determine whether to maintain, diminish, or expand opportunities for activities such as hunting and fishing. Defs.' Opp'n at 10. Before opening a refuge to recreational hunting, the FWS develops a proposed hunting plan, which involves the development of refuge-specific regulations to ensure compatibility. But, ultimately, it is the individual refuges that determine whether to allow hunting or fishing on their grounds. Id. at 3.

Between 1997 and 2002, the FWS issued six final rules creating or expanding recreational hunting opportunities at numerous wildlife refuges. Compl. ¶ 99; see also 67 Fed. Reg. 58936 (Sept. 18, 2002); 66 Fed. Reg. 46346 (Sept. 4, 2001); 65 Fed. Reg. 56396 (Sept. 18, 2000); 65 Fed. Reg. 30771 (May 12, 2000); 63 Fed. Reg. 46910, 46912 (Sept. 3, 1998); 62 Fed. Reg. 47372, 47374 (Sept. 9, 1997).The plaintiffs allege that, prior to issuing the six final rules, the FWS did not analyze the cumulative impacts on the environment. According to the plaintiffs, the failure to analyze the rules' cumulative impacts constitutes a violation of NEPA. See generally Compl. Though admitting that it did not prepare an Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") or an Environmental Assessment ("EA") prior to the publication of the six final rules, Ans.¶ 103, Defs.' Opp'n at 40,the FWS claims that the individual refuges prepared EAs prior to the actual opening or expansions of refuges. Defs.' Opp'n at 3. According to the FWS, the individual refuges that conducted EAs concludedthat creating or expanding recreational hunting would not have a significant impact on the environment.Defs.' Opp'n at 44. Because of the this Finding of No Significant Impact ("FONSI"), the FWS did not conduct an EIS. Id.

B. Procedural History

The plaintiff Fund for Animals (the "Fund") is a national nonprofit membership organization dedicated to "preserving animal and plant species in their natural habitats and . . . preventing the abuse and exploitation of wild and domestic animals." Compl. ¶ 3. The Fund initiated this action on its own behalf and on behalf of its members, who regularly engage in educational, recreational and scientific activities on and near national wildlife refuges. Id. ¶ 5.

After the Fund filed this action, the court, concluding that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' allegations that the FWS violated NEPA and the APA by publishing its long-term goals in a Strategic Plan. That dismissal, however, left the plaintiffs' NEPA challenge to the six agency rules intact. The plaintiffs now moves for summary judgment on their claim challenging the six rules creating or expanding hunting opportunities at individual refuges. The defendants and the ...

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