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Minnesota Pub. Interest Research Group v. Butz

Citation: 6 ELR 20736
No. No. 75-1724, 541 F.2d 1292/9 ERC 1220/(8th Cir., 08/30/1976) Injunction dissolved

Dissolving the district court's injunction, 6 ELR 20133, the Eighth Circuit, sitting en banc, holds that the Wilderness Act does not prohibit logging in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) and that the NEPA impact statement discussing timber management in the BWCA is procedurally and substantively adequate. The Wilderness Act accords special treatment to the BWCA, the management of which was delegated to the Secretary of Agriculture with a view to maintaining its primitive character without unnecessary restrictions on other uses, including timber production. The legislative and administrative history of the BWCA shows that logging outside shoreline areas is a permissible activity in the BWCA's Portal (exterior) Zone, including its virgin areas. Plaintiffs incorrectly emphasize the statutory use of the word "primitive," since the BWCA has never been managed as a pure wilderness area. The Wilderness Act preserved the traditional BWCA management policy of multiple use, and, therefore, the Secretary's regulation allowing commercial timber harvesting is neither arbitrary nor capricious.

The standard of judicial review of the procedural aspects of NEPA compliance requires good faith objectively in the environmental impact statement (EIS), construed in the light of reason. The EIS's primary function is to provide information to the decision maker. Substantive review of an EIS uses an extremely narrow review standard of whether the agency gave good faith consideration to environmental standards and whether the agency's actual balance of costs and benefits was arbitrary. A court cannot interject itself into the area of agency discretion. Kleppe v. Sierra Club, 6 ELR 20532 (U.S. 1976). Procedurally, the Forest Service's matrix system of evaluating alternate management impacts was completed after a good faith study. Methods of quantification belong within agency discretion. The district court erred in rejecting the EIS's assignment of matrix values to the environmental impacts, its discussion of logging impacts on virgin timber, its interrelating forest activities in evaluating alternatives, and its discussion of existing sales and alternatives. Each of these discussions is adequate under NEPA. The discussion of the impacts of and alternatives to future timber sales, however, requires a comprehensive EIS in order to apprise decision makers of rates of logging on specific tree species throughout the life of BWCA's ten-year management plan. Nevertheless, the Forest Service's substantive decision to manage the vegetation in the Portal Zone through logging rather than prescribed burning is not arbitrary. The district court's permanent injunction, except as it relates to future sales pending completion of a comprehensive EIS, is dissolved.

Counsel are listed at 6 ELR 20133 and 3 ELR 20457.

Ross, J. joined by Gibson, C.J., Lay, Heaney, Bright, Stephenson, Webster & Henley, JJ., en banc.