Safari Club Int'l v. Haaland, 21-35030

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtGOULD, Circuit Judge:
PartiesSafari Club International, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Debra Haaland, in her official capacity as Secretary of the Department of the Interior; Mitch Ellis, in his official capacity as Chief of Refuges for the Alaska Region of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service; Sara Boario, in her official capacity as Alaska Regional Director, United States Fish and Wildlife Service; Martha Williams, in her official capacity as Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Bert Frost, in his official capacity as Alaska Regional Director, National Park Service; Charles F. Sams, III, in his official capacity as Director of the National Park Service; United States Fish and Wildlife Service; National Park Service; U.S. Department of the Interior, Defendants-Appellees, and State of Alaska, Plaintiff, Alaska Wildlife Alliance; Alaskans for Wildlife; Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges; Denali Citizens Council; Copper Country Alliance; Kachemak Bay Conservation Society; Defenders of Wildlife; National Parks Conservation Association; National Wildlife Refuge Association; Northern Alaska Environmental Center; The Wilderness Society, Inc.; Wilderness Watch; Sierra Club; Center for Biological Diversity; The Humane Society of the United States, Intervenor-Defendants-Appellees. State of Alaska, Plaintiff-Appellant, and Safari Club International, Plaintiff, v. Debra Haaland, in her official capacity as Secretary of the Department of the Interior; Mitch Ellis, in his official capacity as Chief of Refuges for the Alaska Region of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service; Sara Boario, in her official capacity as Alaska Regional Director, United States Fish and Wildlife Service; Martha Williams, in her official capacity as Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Bert Frost, in his official capacity as Alaska Regional Director, National Park Service; Charles F. Sams, III, in his official capacity as Director of the National Park Service; United States Fish and Wildlife Service; National Park Service; U.S. Department of the Interior, Defendants-Appellees, Alaska Wildlife Alliance; Alaskans for Wildlife; Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges; Denali Citizens Council; Copper Country Alliance; Kachemak Bay Conservation Society; Defenders of Wildlife; National Parks Conservation Association; National Wildlife Refuge Association; Northern Alaska Environmental Center; The Wilderness Society, Inc.; Wilderness Watch; Sierra Club; Center for Biological Diversity; The Humane Society of the United States, Intervenor-Defendants-Appellees.
Docket Number21-35030,21-35035
Decision Date18 April 2022

Safari Club International, Plaintiff-Appellant, and State of Alaska, Plaintiff,
v.

Debra Haaland, in her official capacity as Secretary of the Department of the Interior; Mitch Ellis, in his official capacity as Chief of Refuges for the Alaska Region of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service; Sara Boario, in her official capacity as Alaska Regional Director, United States Fish and Wildlife Service; Martha Williams, in her official capacity as Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Bert Frost, in his official capacity as Alaska Regional Director, National Park Service; Charles F. Sams, III, in his official capacity as Director of the National Park Service; United States Fish and Wildlife Service; National Park Service; U.S. Department of the Interior, Defendants-Appellees,

Alaska Wildlife Alliance; Alaskans for Wildlife; Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges; Denali Citizens Council; Copper Country Alliance; Kachemak Bay Conservation Society; Defenders of Wildlife; National Parks Conservation Association; National Wildlife Refuge Association; Northern Alaska Environmental Center; The Wilderness Society, Inc.; Wilderness Watch; Sierra Club; Center for Biological Diversity; The Humane Society of the United States, Intervenor-Defendants-Appellees. State of Alaska, Plaintiff-Appellant, and Safari Club International, Plaintiff,
v.

Debra Haaland, in her official capacity as Secretary of the Department of the Interior; Mitch Ellis, in his official capacity as Chief of Refuges for the Alaska Region of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service; Sara Boario, in her official capacity as Alaska Regional Director, United States Fish and Wildlife Service; Martha Williams, in her official capacity as Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Bert Frost, in his official capacity as Alaska Regional Director, National Park Service; Charles F. Sams, III, in his official capacity as Director of the National Park Service; United States Fish and Wildlife Service; National Park Service; U.S. Department of the Interior, Defendants-Appellees,

Alaska Wildlife Alliance; Alaskans for Wildlife; Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges; Denali Citizens Council; Copper Country Alliance; Kachemak Bay Conservation Society; Defenders of Wildlife; National Parks Conservation Association; National Wildlife Refuge Association; Northern Alaska Environmental Center; The Wilderness Society, Inc.; Wilderness Watch; Sierra Club; Center for Biological Diversity; The Humane Society of the United States, Intervenor-Defendants-Appellees.

Nos. 21-35030, 21-35035

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

April 18, 2022


Argued and Submitted February 18, 2022 San Francisco, California

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Alaska Sharon L. Gleason, Chief District Judge, Presiding D.C. Nos. 3:17-cv-00013-SLG 3:17-cv-00014-SLG

Jeremy E. Clare (argued) and Regina Lennox, Safari Club International, Washington, D.C., for Plaintiff-Appellant Safari Club International.

Jessica M. Alloway (argued), Solicitor General, Civil Appeals; Treg R. Taylor, Attorney General; Office of the Attorney General, Anchorage, Alaska; for Plaintiff-Appellant State of Alaska.

Kevin W. McArdle (argued), Rachel Heron, and Michael S. Sawyer, Attorneys; Todd Kim, Assistant Attorney General; Environment and Natural Resources Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.; Kenneth M. Lord, Attorney, United States Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.; for Defendants-Appellees.

Rachel Genna Briggs (argued), Katherine Strong, and Brian Litmans, Trustees for Alaska, Anchorage, Alaska, for Intervenor-Defendants-Appellees.

Before: Ronald M. Gould and Johnnie B. Rawlinson, Circuit Judges, and Jennifer G. Zipps, [*] District Judge.

SUMMARY[**]

Environmental Law

The panel affirmed the district court's summary judgment in favor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the "Service") in cases brought by the State of Alaska and Safari Club International ("plaintiffs") alleging that the Service violated federal environmental laws by enacting the Kenai Rule, which limits certain hunting practices approved by the State in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Anchorage, Alaska.

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In May 2016, the Service published a final rule - the Kenai Rule - codifying its ban on baiting of Kenai Refuge brown bears, and its closing of the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area ("Skilak WRA") to coyote, wolf, and lynx hunts.

The panel held that the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act ("ANILCA") preserved the federal government's plenary power over public lands in Alaska. The panel rejected plaintiffs' two arguments that the Service exceeded its statutory authority in enacting the Kenai Rule. First, they asserted that the Alaska Statehood Act and ANILCA stripped the Service of the power to restrict the means, methods, or scope of State-approved hunting on federal lands in Alaska. The panel held that while it was true that the Alaska Statehood Act transferred administration of wildlife from Congress to the State, this transfer did not include lands withdrawn or otherwise set apart as refuges or reservations for the protection of wildlife - like the Kenai Refuge, which remains under federal control. Hunting within the Kenai Refuge is subject to federal law, including any regulations imposed by the Secretary of the Interior under its delegated statutory authority to manage federal lands. This specific mandate prevailed over ANILCA's general recognition of the State's concurrent authority to manage wildlife on public lands. If Alaska state law conflicts with federal hunting regulations, the federal regulations prevail under standard principles of conflict preemption. Second, plaintiffs contended that even if the Service could preempt the State's hunting regulations on federal lands in Alaska, the Kenai Rule violated a 2017 congressional joint resolution revoking the Refuges Rule, which expanded the ban on brown bear baiting to all Alaskan wildlife refuges and restricted other hunting. The panel held that this claim was unsupported by the law. The 2017 joint

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resolution only pertained to the Refuges Rule - not the Kenai Rule. Accordingly, the 2017 joint resolution that disapproved of the Refuges Rule did not void the Kenai Rule.

The panel rejected Safari Club's contention that the Skilak WRA aspect of the Kenai Rule violated the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 ("Improvement Act") by disfavoring the compatible priority use of hunting relative to the other compatible priority uses and compatible non-priority uses of the Skilak WRA. Designation of the Skilak WRA as a special area to be managed for non-competitive uses was a permissible exercise of the Service's authority under ANILCA. The Improvement Act did not require the Service to allow all State-sanctioned hunting throughout the Kenai Refuge.

The panel rejected plaintiffs' numerous arguments that the Service violated the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA") by acting arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing the Kenai Rule. Specifically, plaintiffs claimed that the Service acted arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing the brown bear baiting aspect of the Kenai Rule because: (1) it conflicted with a different regulation; (2) the Service improperly considered a predator control factor not contemplated by Congress; (3) its conservation basis was improper; and (4) its public safety justification was not grounded in evidence in the record and constituted an unexplained change in position by the Service. The panel concluded that these points were inapt. Apart from its APA claims as to brown bear hunting, Safari Club argued that the Skilak WRA hunting part of the Kenai Rule was arbitrary and capricious because: (1) the Service did not articulate any sufficient basis for banning coyote, lynx, and wolf hunting in the Skilak WRA; (2) the record undercut the Service's finding

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that hunting in the Skilak WRA would bother recreation; (3) the Service did not explain the basis for its changed position on coyote, lynx, and wolf hunting within the Skilak WRA; and (4) the district court applied the incorrect legal standard in disposing of the APA claims concerning the Skilak WRA. The panel disagreed with all of these arguments. Finally, Safari Club claimed that enactment of the Kenai Rule was procedurally improper because the Service did not make necessary predicate findings that the baiting of brown bears and the hunting of coyotes, lynx, and wolves in the Skilak WRA were incompatible with refuge purposes. This assertion relied on a 2007 compatibility determination ("CD") where the Service classified hunting of brown bears as a compatible use of the Kenai Refuge. The panel held that ANILCA did not require the Service to follow any formal procedures or issue any findings before regulating uses of the Kenai Refuge. The Service exercised its power based on various factors, and addressed all of these factors in the Kenai Rule. The Service complied with the requisite procedures, and reversal on procedural grounds was unwarranted. The panel rejected Safari Club's request to disturb the district court's summary judgment on grounds relating to the 2007 CD.

The panel rejected plaintiffs' two-part National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA") argument. They asserted that the Kenai Rule changed the environmental status quo in Kenai Refuge such that NEPA review was required; and that the Service improperly fulfilled its NEPA obligations for the Kenai Rule through categorical exclusions (CE). Assuming NEPA procedures applied to the Kenai Rule, an agency satisfies NEPA if it applied its CEs and determined that neither an environmental assessment (EA) nor an environmental impact statement (EIS) was required, so long as applications of the exclusions were not

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arbitrary and capricious. The panel held that the Service sensibly...

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