Home » Case Summaries » 1998 » Foundation for Horses & Other Animals v. Babbitt


Foundation for Horses & Other Animals v. Babbitt



Enacted by Congress in 1980, the Channel Islands National Park Act (CINPA)[1] directs the Secretary of the Interior to acquire parcels of real property for incorporation into the Channel Islands National Park. Pursuant to CINPA, the National Park Service (NPS) developed plans for acquiring the privately owned eastern portion of Santa Cruz Island, owned by the Gherini family. Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),[2] NPS issued a general management plan/supplemental environmental assessment (GMP/SEA), which announced plans to remove all exotic animals from the island in order to restore its natural ecosystem. That same year, NPS also issued a finding of no significant impact (FONSI), concluding that an environmental impact statement (EIS) would not be necessary because NPS had identified no significant adverse consequences that would result from its actions to restore the natural condition of the island.

The acquisition of the eastern portion of the island was delayed by one of the Gherinis, who was not willing to sell his interest in the land. To combat the delay, Congress revised CINPA in November 1996 to require the acquisition of all of the Gherini property, either by purchase or condemnation.[3] The appellants, Foundation for Wild Horses and Other Animals (Foundation) and its individual members, claimed that NPS violated NEPA by failing to supplement its 1984 GMP/SEA and FONSI before acquiring the land and removing any exotic animals. Foundation argued that the existence of twelve horses, which had yet to be born at the time NPS conducted its original studies, required the preparation of another supplemental environmental assessment.

Before the court reached the question of whether a supplemental environmental assessment was required, it disposed of the case by holding that the horses were not subject to NEPA. The horses, even though they were feral, were the private property of the Gherini family. The Foundation admitted as much in sworn affidavits that 1) evidenced the Gherini family’s intent to convey the horses to the Foundation, and 2) asserted the Foundation’s claim of ownership. Because the horses were private property, they were subject to CINPA’s mandate that all “equipment, facilities, or personal property” be removed from the Gherini property upon acquisition.[4] The court cited to Lake Berryessa Tenants’ Council v. United States,[5] which held that NEPA did not apply to a government directive to remove privately-owned floating structures from a publicly-owned lake. Because the horses in the instant case were personal property and Congress had called for the removal of personal property from the island, the horses were not subject to NEPA’s procedures.

[1] Pub. L. No. 96-199, 94 Stat. 74 (codified as amended at 16 U.S.C. § 410ff (1994 & Supp. III 1997)).

[2] National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4370d (1994 & Supp. III 1997).

[3] 16 U.S.C. § 410ff-1(e) (Supp. III 1997).

[4] Id.

[5] 588 F.2d 267 (9th Cir. 1978).

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