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Dallas, City of v. Hall

ELR Citation: 39 ELR 20062
Nos. No. 08-10890, (5th Cir., 03/12/2009)

The Fifth Circuit held that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) was not required to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) in conjunction with its establishment of a conservation easement on city land. After FWS prepared an environmental assessment (EA) for a proposed wildlife refuge in eastern Texas, it announced its finding of no significant impact, obviating the need to prepare an EIS. It then set an acquisition boundary for the refuge and accepted a conservation easement within that boundary, thereby precluding the construction of a water reservoir that a city had proposed for the same site. The city filed suit, arguing that the EA should have considered an alternative that would allow the refuge and the reservoir to coexist. The city also argued that the FWS should have analyzed the refuge's impact on the city's water supply. Plans for the reservoir, however, were speculative. And given the uncertainty over whether the reservoir will be constructed, the effects of establishing the refuge on water supplies are not concrete enough to require that they be included in the EA. Nor do Council on Environmental Quality regulations mandate the preparation of an EIS in this case. The action at issue is the establishment of an acquisition boundary for the refuge. The establishment of that boundary does not effect any change in the physical environment, but merely authorizes the purchase of property from willing buyers or the acceptance of conservation easements. Once sufficient land is acquired, FWS will be required to comply with the National Enviornmental Policy Act in formulating a Comprehensive Conservation Plan to guide refuge forest management. The court also rejected claims that FWS' establishment of the refuge violated the Tenth Amendment.