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Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Thompson

Citation: 23 ELR 21102
No. No. 92-C-0052A, 811 F. Supp. 635/(D. Utah, 01/15/1993)

The court holds that environmental groups and private individuals are not entitled to a preliminary injunction prohibiting the U.S. Forest Service from implementing animal damage control (ADC) plans to reduce coyote populations in the Dixie and the Fishlake National Forests in Utah. The ADC programs authorize nonlethal and lethal methods to reduce coyote populations, whose predation the Forest Service deemed to cause or threaten to cause damage to local livestock. The court first notes that the parties do not dispute that the regional forester's denial of plaintiffs' appeal of the local supervisor's decision to issue a finding of no significant impact and an environmental assessment (EA) for the ADC programs constitutes final agency action under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The court holds that the plaintiffs have standing to seek judicial review because they fall within the zone of interest sought to be protected by the relevant statutes. Recreational use and aesthetic enjoyment, which they claim as the basis for standing, are among the sorts of interests that the relevant statutes were specifically designed to protect. Further, the plaintiffs' complaint and affidavit set forth with specificity their use of the Dixie and Fishlake National Forests.

Turning to the plaintiffs' claim for injunctive relief, the court holds that the balance of harms tips in favor of the public and ranchers holding permits to graze livestock in the national forests. Although predation loss varies from permittee to permittee, the record reveals a trend toward increased predation loss. Actual losses to predation are much greater than confirmed losses, and increased predation loss, the predominant reason that ranchers leave the sheep business, threatens the permittees' economic viability. Further, injunctive relief would not serve the public interest. Under Utah law, coyotes are a nonprotected predatory animal, and ranchers suffering predation loss may practice predatory control methods against them. Therefore, injunctive relief could cut against the public interest by restricting the government from achieving its statutory objective and by transferring the authority to conduct predator control to those ill-suited to conduct it, the permittees. This self-help situation would create a substantial risk of irreparable harm to the public interest. The court holds that the plaintiffs will suffer no irreparable injury, because despite their contrary contention, even with the ADC programs, the coyote population will remain viable. Nothing in the record supports the plaintiffs' contention that the ADCs threaten the coyote population.

The court next holds that a substantial likelihood does not exist that the plaintiffs will succeed on the merits of their claims that the Forest Service's EAs for the ADC programs violate the APA or the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The court holds that the ADCs, as embodied in the EAs, do not violate the APA because the government established the need for the ADC program. The record indicates that actual predation damage was occurring in the Dixie and Fishlake National Forests, and the forest supervisors sought public comment and considered the competing social and economic values in evaluating the need for the ADCs. Also, the record establishes a rational basis for effectiveness of predator control programs. The court holds that the plaintiffs have failed to show that the ADCs are inconsistent with the respective plans for the forests or that the programs endanger the diversity of wildlife in the forests. The court holds that the EAs do not violate NEPA because the forest supervisors did not ignore any relevant data in the record in conducting their cumulative impacts analysis. The supervisors consulted numerous sources concerning the cumulative impact of the ADC proposals on the coyote population and were aware of and gave limited consideration to reimbursing livestock owners as an alternative to the ADCs. Finally, although the Fishlake National Forest EA allegedly copied portions of the Dixie National Forest EA, the record indicates that the Fishlake forest supervisor independently considered both the cumulative impacts and the reimbursement alternative.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Stephen Koteff
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
1471 S. 1100 East St., Salt Lake City UT 84105
(801) 486-3161

Counsel for Defendants
Stephen Roth, Ass't U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
476 U.S. CtHse., 350 S. Main St., Salt Lake City UT 84101
(801) 524-5682