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Sierra Club v. Peterson

Citation: 29 ELR 21432
No. No. 97-41274, 185 F.3d 349/(5th Cir., 08/16/1999) Aff'd

The court upholds a district court decision enjoining the U.S. Forest Service from future timber harvesting in certain Texas National Forests until it complies with the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and its implementing regulations. Because the Forest Service failed to develop an administrative record to support its actions, the district court opted to conduct a trial to review the Forest Service's alleged failure to comply with the NFMA rather than to remand the matter for further explanation. The court first holds that the environmental groups have standing to bring their claims in federal court. Their complaints were alleged with adequate specificity to meet the constitutional, statutory, and prudential doctrines of standing that bind the federal courts.

The court next holds that the district court's taking of evidence in order to engage in arbitrary and capricious review of the Forest Service's past compliance with the NFMA was appropriate under the Administrative Procedure Act. The Forest Service's failure to implement timber sales in compliance with the NFMA was a final agency action. Moreover, while other courts may have elected to remand the case to the agency for an explanation of its actions, the district court's decision to take testimony in the form of a trial was not an abuse of discretion under current law. It also reflected the district court's exasperation with the Forest Service's repeated refusal to develop such a record despite 10 years' worth of legal wrangling over the issue and repeated requests that the Forest Service comply with its statutory duties. Further, even if the district court did not engage in arbitrary and capricious review and instead conducted de novo review, this case presents a rare circumstance under which a court may engage in de novo review because no record whatsoever existed.

The court then holds that the district court properly issued the injunction. The injunction does not seek permanently to enjoin the use of even-aged management or to substitute its opinion on the desirability of even-aged management for that of the Forest Service. The injunction merely requires the Forest Service to comply with NFMA regulations before it proceeds with even-aged management in the Texas National Forests.

A dissenting judge would hold that the groups failed to identify a final agency action subject to judicial review, and, thus, the district court lacked jurisdiction to review the groups claims.

[A prior decision in this litigation is published at 28 ELR 20344.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Stuart Henry
Henry, Lowerre, Johnson, Hess & Frederick
202 W. 17th St., Austin TX 78701
(512) 479-8125

Counsel for Defendants
Wells D. Burgess
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Politz, J., with Garza, J., dissenting