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Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges v. Bernhardt

ELR Citation: 50 ELR 20135
Nos. 3:19-CV-00216 JWS, (D. Alaska, 06/01/2020) (Sedwick, J.)

A district court vacated DOI's decision to enter into a land exchange agreement to facilitate construction of a road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Environmental groups argued that the agreement, which DOI acknowledged represented a change in the agency's policy, failed to provide reasons for the exchange that adequately justified the change. The court found that DOI failed to provide a reasoned explanation for overturning its previous conclusion that a road would "lead to significant degradation of irreplaceable ecological resources," or to provide any new information to justify a contrary finding to its previous conclusion, and thus that its decision to enter into the agreement was arbitrary and capricious. The groups also argued that DOI's change in policy was not permissible under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) because the agreement did not further the purposes of the Act, which aimed to preserve natural landscapes while protecting subsistence uses. The court found that the agreement also failed to advance these purposes, and thus concluded that the agreement and the change in policy it represented constituted unlawful agency action in violation of the APA. It therefore vacated DOI's decision to enter into the agreement.