December 19, 2023Clinic’s Ninth Circuit Reply Brief Calls Government Interpretation of Park Service Statute “Illogical”

On Tuesday, December 19, the Harvard Law School Animal Law & Policy Clinic filed a reply brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case, brought on behalf of our clients Jack Gescheidt, Laura Chariton, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, challenges the Park Service’s failure to update the General Management Plan for Tomales Point, home to a fenced-in population of Tule Elk. The General Management Plan has not been revised since it was adopted over 40 years ago and a fence across Tomales Point currently blocks the elk from migrating to gain access to adequate food and water during periods of drought.

Our brief, drafted by clinicians Magdalene Beck (3L), Nyala Carbado (2L), and Samantha Goerger (2L) explains that the Park Service has a mandatory duty to revise the General Management Plan under its organic statute, which provides that the Park Service “shall” revise all General Management Plans for national park units. The brief responds to the government’s argument that such revisions are discretionary by demonstrating that the Park Service’s twisted interpretation of the statute is plainly illogical. Under the Park Service’s interpretation, the language in the statute which calls for revisions to occur “in a timely manner” – which we interpret as an instruction to proceed with haste – somehow would convert the agency’s entire duty to revise such plans into a matter of complete discretion.

In response to our litigation, the Park Service is now planning to revise the General Management Plan for Tomales Point and, as part of that process, is considering taking down the elk fence. Nonetheless, as our brief explains, absent a court order binding the Park Service to a revision of the General Management Plan, there is no guarantee that the agency will actually proceed accordingly.