Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance v. U.S. Department of the Interior et al
Transmission of Notice of Appeal, Docketing Statement, Order, Transcript Information Sheet and Docket Sheet to Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals re: 35 Notice of Appeal, (Attachments: # 1 Docketing Statement, # 2 Order #32, # 3 Transcript Information Sheet, # 4 Docket Sheet) (lak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN
SAUK PRAIRIE CONSERVATION ALLIANCE,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
SALLY JEWELL, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,
U.S. GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION,
and DENISE TURNER ROTH,
STATE OF WISCONSIN,
This suit arises from a dispute over the use of the Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area
(the Area), where the Badger Army Ammunition Plant used to be. According to plaintiff Sauk
Prairie Conservation Alliance, the federal government gave the land to the Wisconsin
Department of National Resources on the condition that it be reserved for conservation,
education, and low-impact recreational use such as hiking. But in December 2016, the WDNR
approved high-impact uses, including motorcycle racing, helicopter flight training by the
Wisconsin Army National Guard, hunting dog training, and paintballing. According to the
complaint filed in January 2017, these high-impact uses violate the terms of the transfer to the
state, and the defendants, federal agencies and administrators, violate federal law by allowing
them. The Alliance wants the high-impact uses stopped.
It’s five months after the filing of the complaint, and the Alliance now moves for a
preliminary injunction enjoining defendant the National Park Service and intervenor
defendant the State of Wisconsin from allowing three of the high-impact uses: (1) off-road
motorized vehicles; (2) increased gun use; and (3) helicopter training by the Wisconsin Army
National Guard in the Area. Dkt. 19. The Alliance says that it did not move for preliminary
injunctive relief sooner, because it had filed a similar motion in state court. But the state court
denied that motion, and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals denied the request for interlocutory
appeal. So the Alliance wants to try again in this court, and it asks for expedited briefing to
avoid irreparable harm to nesting birds in the area during the summer breeding season. Because
the Alliance has not shown that it is likely to suffer irreparable harm before this case can be
decided on the merits, the court will deny its motion without need for a response from
The court will assume here that the Alliance can make the requisite showing of likely
success on the merits. But to obtain preliminary injunctive relief, the Alliance must also
demonstrate the lack of an adequate remedy at law and irreparable harm absent the injunction.
Promatek Indus., Ltd. v. Equitrac Corp., 300 F.3d 808, 811 (7th Cir. 2002). Environmental injury
may be irreparable, but a preliminary injunction is warranted only if the injury is sufficiently
likely and permanent. See Amoco Prod. Co. v. Village of Gambell, 480 U.S. 531, 545 (1987). The
parties’ motions for summary judgment will be fully briefed by December 2017, and given the
nature of the claims here, it is reasonably likely that those motions will resolve the case.
Accordingly, the Alliance must demonstrate that irreparable harm is sufficiently likely to occur
before spring 2018, when the court will decide the case on the merits.
The Alliance explains that the Area is home to 33 rare animal species and 97 breeding
bird species. It contends that noise and exhaust from motorized vehicles “may cause
displacement, nest desertion, [and] breeding failure” to some native species, and that the
vehicles could compact and erode the soil and hit some slow-moving animals. Dkt. 21, at 26.
Firearm discharge “may disturb wildlife and cause wildlife to flush or exhibit avoidance
behaviors.” Id. at 28. Helicopter flights may disturb “geese and nesting bald eagles” and
“generate considerable wind and dust.” Id. at 29. And visitor traffic may increase trash and
attract predators such as raccoons, killing endangered grassland birds by “trampling or eating
nests on the ground.” Id. at 32. The Alliance explains that the harm to breeding birds is more
pronounced during the nesting season, which runs from late May through late July. “Any
disturbance within that time frame, even for just a few days, would prove significantly
detrimental to the likelihood of breeding success.” Id. at 33.
The Alliance has made a good showing that the contested high-impact uses will disrupt
wildlife in the Area, including some vulnerable species. But there are fatal flaws with the
First, the Alliance has not shown that a preliminary injunction would actually prevent
the alleged environmental harm. The Alliance focuses on the disruption of the current nesting
season, which may reduce the breeding success of some species. But even on an expedited
briefing schedule, the court would not be able to issue an injunction before the end of the
nesting season in July.
Second, the Alliance does not explain why enjoining the three specific activities will
prevent the negative environmental impact. One expert explains that gunfire has “severe effects
on bird populations.” Id. at 30. But the Alliance does not request a total ban on gun use, only
the increased gun use connected with dog training, leaving people free to continue to hunt in
the Area. Another expert explains that some birds are “vulnerable to predation and nest
disturbance by dogs.” Id. at 29. But the Alliance does not request a ban on dogs, only the
cessation of hunting dog training.
Third, and most fundamentally, the Alliance has not shown that the wildlife disruptions
and resulting environmental harm would be permanent. The Alliance does not explain how a
few more months of high-impact activities in the Area will cause harm that would not be
remediated if and when the offending activities cease. After all, the Area was once home to a
munitions plant, and wildlife returned to the Area after the plant was decommissioned and the
Army cleaned up the site.
The Alliance has not shown that it will likely suffer irreparable harm before its case is
decided on the merits. The court will deny its motion for a preliminary injunction without need
for a response from defendants.
IT IS ORDERED that plaintiff Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance’s motion for
preliminary injunction, Dkt. 19, is DENIED.
Entered June 26, 2017.
BY THE COURT:
JAMES D. PETERSON
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