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Oregon Natural Resources Council Action v. U.S. Forest Serv.

Citation: 30 ELR 20021
No. No. C98-942WD, 59 F. Supp. 2d 1085/(W.D. Wash., 08/02/1999)

The court holds that the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the Northwest Forest Plan and, hence, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by authorizing timber sales without first conducting surveys for certain species of wildlife. The court first holds that the environmental organizations have standing to challenge the federal government's approval of timber sales based on disputed interpretations of the plan's survey requirements. The organizations have a procedural right under the APA to protect their interests, there is a causal relationship between the alleged procedural injury and the threatened concrete interest, their procedural injuries are redressable, and they satisfy the "zone of interests" test for prudential standing. In addition, the court holds that the finality and ripeness requirements are satisfied in this case.

The court next holds that the federal government's reliance on memoranda that exempted numerous proposed timber sales from the forest plan's survey requirement was arbitrary and contrary to the plain language of the record of decision adopting the forest plan. Although the plan states that surveys must be done before ground-disturbing activities are implemented after certain dates, the government issued interpretive memoranda equating the issuance of an environmental impact statement (EIS) with the implementation of ground-disturbing activities. The Forest Service and the BLM managers routinely relied on these memoranda in deciding not to require surveys before approving the challenged timber sales, even though ground-breaking activities have yet to begin on many of those sales. However, to equate the EIS decision with the implementation of ground-disturbing activities arbitrarily exempts a large number of timbers sales from the plan's survey requirements. The court then holds that a memorandum issued jointly by the Forest Service and the BLM that exempts red tree vole surveys in areas where habitat is abundant or isolated also has no basis in law. The forest plan requires red tree vole surveys to be conducted within the species' known or suspected ranges and within the habitat types or vegetation communities associated with it. The protocol adopted by the Forest Service and the BLM, however, does exactly the opposite. Last, the court holds that the environmental organizations have not carried their burden to compel the government's preparation of a new regionwide supplemental EIS. The organizations have cited no new information that cannot be addressed under the existing plan.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Michael D. Axline
Western Environmental Law Center
1216 Lincoln St., Eugene OR 97401
(503) 485-2471

Counsel for Defendants
Mark C. Rutzick
LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae
Koin Center
222 SW Columbia St., Ste. 1600, Portland OR 97201
(503) 294-3095