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Wilderness Watch v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
629 F.3d 1024 (2010)


Facts

The Kofa National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness (Kofa), located in Arizona, contained a population of bighorn sheep (sheep). In 1997, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) (defendant) issued a management plan stating that the needs of the species located within Kofa did not conflict with the requirements of the Wilderness Act (Act), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1331-36. The Act’s purpose was to preserve wilderness areas in their natural condition. Section 1331(c) of the Act prohibited structures within wilderness areas unless they were necessary to meet the minimum requirements for wilderness-area administration. Various factors contributed to the sheep population’s decline in Kofa, including hunting, hiking, and the relocation of some of the sheep to other areas. In 2006, the FWS prepared a report that reached no conclusion regarding the causes of the population decline, but identified water availability as a critical factor in population viability. A 2007 FWS investigative report identified several actions to increase the sheep population, including the end of sheep relocation and hunting activities, the reduction of mountain-lion predation, and the temporary closure of trails. Although the investigative report identified the creation of new water structures (structures) as an option to recover the sheep population, the report did not state that the structures were necessary. The report concluded that a necessity finding under § 1331(c) could be avoided by building the structures outside of Kofa. In 2007, the FWS built two structures within Kofa. Wilderness Watch and other conservation groups (plaintiffs) sued the FWS, claiming that the structures violated § 1331(c) of the Act. The district court held that the FWS had rationally concluded that the structures were necessary. The district court granted summary judgment to the FWS, and the plaintiffs appealed.

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Holding and Reasoning (Graber, J.)

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Dissent (Bybee, J.)

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