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Sierra Club v. Glickman

Citation: 28 ELR 20344
(08/14/1997)

The court holds that the U.S. Forest Service's management of national forests in Texas violates the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and its regulations. As a result of these violations, the court enjoins the Forest Service from engaging in timber harvesting under any method until such time that the Forest Service complies with the NFMA and regulations with respect to the implementation of past timber sales and assures the court that any future timber harvesting will be in compliance.

The court first holds that the Forest Service has not violated laws and regulations requiring it to provide for diversity of plant and animal communities in the national forests in Texas. While the Forest Service's even-aged management practices are drastically reducing plant and animal species in some areas of the forest and creating areas of pine monoculture, the court cannot conclude that the Forest Service's actions are irrational or arbitrary and capricious. The regulations do not dictate that the Forest Service analyze diversity in any specific way. Additionally, the court is required to look at diversity over the entire planning area rather than within an area of monoculture.

The court next holds that the Forest Service is neither protecting nor conserving the key resources of soil and watershed. Forest Service management practices, which have been primarily even-aged, are causing severe erosion of soil from the forest landscape and related loss of organic material. The soil loss is substantially and permanently impairing the productivity of the forest land and possibly timber production. Whatever Forest Service planning documents prescribe with respect to protection of soil, the evidence shows that, on the ground, the Forest Service is not protecting the soil resource. The Forest Service has stepped outside its discretion and acted arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to conduct its management activities in a way that prevents severe soil erosion.

Also, Forest Service management practices are causing substantial and permanent erosion within waterways, deposit of soil, silt, and sedimentation in waterways, and disruption of water runoff. This derogation of the watershed resource is substantially and permanently impairing the productivity of the forest land. The Forest Service's timber harvesting practices also are damaging the watershed resource by permitting timber harvesting within streamside management zones and blocking streams with tree stumps, slash, and other logging debris. Forest Service harvesting within streamside management zones is causing irreversible damage to the watershed resource. The Forest Service has stepped outside its discretion and acted arbitrarily and capriciously.

The court further holds that the plaintiff environmental group has not carried its burden of showing the Forest Service has failed to protect the fish and wildlife resources, the recreation and esthetic resources, or the timber resource. Although the Forest Service's timber harvesting activities are substantially and permanently affecting the watershed resource, the environmental group did not offer evidence that in fact fish populations were threatened throughout the planning area. The environmental group also failed to show that recreational opportunities are substantially or permanently foreclosed, or that the timber resource is substantially or permanently damaged.

The court next holds that the Forest Service has failed to inventory and monitor fish and wildlife. The Forest Service is neither collecting management indicator species (MIS) population data nor otherwise inventorying the wildlife resource. The Forest Service has stepped outside its discretion and acted arbitrarily and capriciously. The court further holds that the environmental group has not carried its burden of showing that the Forest Service has failed to inventory or monitor the resources of soil, watershed, recreation, and timber.

The court next holds that the Forest Service has failed to evaluate diversity in terms of animal and plant species. By not collecting population data on the MIS (which is necessary to evaluate diversity), the Forest Service has stepped outside its discretion and acted arbitrarily and capriciously. The court also holds that the Forest Service has failed to evaluate how well its objectives have been met and how closely management standards and guidelines have been applied. Because the Forest Service is not collecting population data for the wildlife MIS, the Forest Service is not able to determine whether it is meeting its objective of providing sufficient populations of animal and plant species. Similarly, the Forest Service will not know whether it is closely adhering to the standards and guidelines that are used to achieve the related objectives and goals. The court further holds that the Forest Service has not violated the requirements that it ensure research to evaluate the effects of management practices.

[Decisions related to this litigation are published at 16 ELR 20049, 18 ELR 20595, 19 ELR 20450, 21 ELR 20755, 24 ELR 20051 and 20888, 25 ELR 20426, and 26 ELR 20160. Briefs & Pleadings in litigation related to this case are published at ELR BRIEFS & PLEADS. 66041, 66045, 66085, and 66388.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Douglas L. Honnold
Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund
11 E. Main St., Unit C, Bozeman MT 59715
(406) 586-9699

Counsel for Defendants
Ruth H. Yeager, Ass't U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
First Republic Bank Plaza Tower
110 N. College St., Ste. 700, Tyler TX 75702
(903) 597-8146
Wells D. Burgess
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000