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Mausolf v. Babbitt

ELR Citation: 26 ELR 20915
Nos. No. 5-94-CV-8, 913 F. Supp. 1334/(D. Minn., 01/23/1996) summary judgment granted

The court holds that snowmobilers have standing to bring Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Administrative Procedure Act (APA) challenges to the closure to motorized vehicles of certain lakeshore areas in Voyageurs National Park. The National Park Service (NPS) restricted access to these areas to protect gray wolves and bald eagles, both of which are listed as threatened species in Minnesota under the ESA. The court first holds that the snowmobilers have standing to bring suit under the ESA because they allege injuries-in-fact; the injuries are concrete, particularized, and immediate; the lakeshore closures imposed by NPS have cause these injuries; and the injuries can be redressed by the relief the snowmobilers seek. The court next holds that the snowmobilers have standing under the APA. Interests other than those asserted on behalf of endangered species, such as the desire to observe an animal species, fall within the zone of interests protected by the ESA. The snowmobilers' interests are congruent with the purposes of the ESA because the snowmobilers are ultimately served by a thriving wolf population in the park.

The court further holds that NPS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) failed to adequately explain the reasons for the area closures. The court rejects the snowmobilers' assertion that NPS and FWS may not rely on anecdotal evidence, but questions whether wholly anecdotal evidence can constitute the "best scientific and commercial data available." The court determines that in this case, the anecdotal evidence is inadequate to support the closure decision. Also, the only formal, scientifically prepared reports indicate that snowmobilers have no significant impact on wolf or eagle populations, although "generally accepted" principles indicate that increased park access, by whatever means, will likely result in increased mortality among individual animals. The value of restricting snowmobile access based on this principle, however, is speculative. Facile resort to this principle would allow NPS and FWS to close the park altogether, a result contrary to Congress' intent in establishing the park. The court remands the case to FWS and NPS to supplement the administrative record, and pending further explanation from the agencies, enjoins them from enforcing the closures.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Rebecca J. Heltzer
Bernick & Lifson
The Colonnade
5500 Wayzata Blvd., Ste. 1200, Minneapolis MN 55416
(612) 546-1200

Counsel for Defendant
Joseph R. Perella
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000