|NMU||D.C. CIRCUIT||Freedom of Information||Apr 11, 2000|
Fish & Wildlife reaches secret settlement to release names
- Names and addresses of thousands of commenters were released, but the federal agency kept some names secrets as the result of a confidential arbitration proceeding that limited the victory won before the trial court.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service must release the names and address of more than 24,000 people who commented on a plan to reintroduce grizzly bears to parts of Idaho and Montana as part of a settlement agreement reached in early April between the agency and an environmental group.
The agreement, which came after about six months of secret mediation sessions, allows the agency to withhold the identities of 178 people because they live in small towns and could be subject to harassment if their identities became known.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies had filed a request under the federal Freedom of Information Act for access to the comments, which the agency solicited as part of its environmental impact study on the grizzly reintroduction plan. The environmental group said it wanted the information in order to monitor what comments the agency relied on in formulating its environmental impact study. The agency resisted the request, however, arguing that the safety of the people who submitted comments could be jeopardized if their identities were made public.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed suit in federal District Court in Washington, D.C., arguing that the information was public under the FOI Act and that the people who submitted comments had no expectation of privacy. In June 1999, Judge Stanley Sporkin ordered the agency to release the information in full, finding that the public interest in knowing what comments had sway with the agency outweighed whatever privacy interests the people who submitted the comments may have had.
The agency appealed, and the case went to mediation. The settlement agreement, reached April 5, does not disturb the lower court precedent.
(Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. United States Dep’t of the Interior; Counsel: Eric Glitzenstein)
© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press