The Wilderness Society v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service
353 F.3d 1051 (9th Cir. 2003)

  • Tustumena Lake (within the Kenai Wildlife Refuge in Alaska) was a salmon spawning ground. In order to protect salmon populations (and provide greater fishing opportunities downstream), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) contracted with a private, non-profit corporation named CIAA to get salmon eggs from the lake, grow them in a hatchery, and then return them to the lake to become delicious adult salmon.
    • FWS prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) that had a finding of no significant impact.
  • Wilderness Society sued for an injunction.
    • Wilderness Society argued that the project violated the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1131-1136) because it did not preserve the 'natural conditions' of the lake, and allowed impermissible commercial activity.
    • FWS argued that no one who came to the Refuge would even notice that there were more salmon in the waters, so the project didn't effect the pristine nature of the wilderness.
  • The Trial Court found for FWS and allowed the project. Wilderness Society appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that the project was not a 'commercial enterprise'.
      • The Court found that the term 'commercial enterprise' in the Wilderness Act 4(b) was ambiguous and wasn't intended to cover activities like CIAA's.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Wilderness Society appealed.
  • The Appellate Court, sitting en banc reversed and granted the injunction.
    • The Appellate Court found that the project was a 'commercial enterprise'.
      • The Court looked to the plain language meaning of the term 'commercial enterprise', and looked the general purposes of the Wilderness Act.
    • The Court found that the primary purpose and effect of the program was to advance commercial interests of fishermen. That's not in line with the purpose of the Wilderness act.
      • The Court noted that the Wilderness Act was very clear and stated that there shall be "no commercial enterprise" within a designated wilderness. "This mandatory language does not provide exception to the prohibition on commercial enterprise within wilderness if aimed at achieving a benign goal for commerce with modest impact on wilderness."
  • Compare to Sierra Club v. Lyng (663 F.Supp. 556 (1987)), where it was held that the Forest Service was allowed to cut down trees within a Wilderness Area to protect timber interests outside of the Area from a beetle infestation.