TULELAKE IRRIGATION DISTRICT V. USFWS, No. 20-35515 (9th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Tulelake Irrigation District and associated agricultural groups (collectively “TID”) alleged that, in imposing restrictions on the agricultural uses of lease land in the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Refuges in the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex in southern Oregon and northern California, the Service violated environmental laws.
On appeal, TID argued that the Service violated the Kuchel Act of 1964 and the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act as amended by the Refuge Improvement Act (“Refuge Act”). TID argued that in approving the combined Environmental Impact Statement and Comprehensive Conservation Plan (“EIS/CCP”) for five of the six wildlife refuges in the Klamath Refuge Complex, the Service misconstrued the Kuchel Act to require the Service to regulate uses of leased agricultural land in the two refuges to ensure that the uses were “consistent” with “proper wildfowl management.” 16 U.S.C. Section 695n.
The Ninth Circuit rejected TID’s interpretation of Section 695n. The court held that with respect to the textual argument made by TID, the language of Section 695n, whether considered in isolation or in the context of the rest of the Kuchel Act, was unambiguous. The court held that it did not, therefore, need to proceed to step two of the Chevron analysis. The court concluded that the Kuchel Act required the Service to regulate the pattern of lease land agriculture in the refuges to ensure consistency with proper waterfowl management. The court further held that the regulation in the EIS/CCP of agricultural uses of lease land was a proper exercise of the Service’s authority under the Kuchel and Refuge Acts.