Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Minnesota Pub. Interest Research Group v. Butz

Citation: 6 ELR 20133
No. No. 4-72 CIV. 598, 401 F. Supp. 1276/(D. Minn., 08/13/1975) Permanent injunction issued

The Forest Service is permanently enjoined from engaging in or permitting others to log areas contiguous to virgin forest in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in Minnesota.The court finds that six of the seven active timber sales in the Portal Zone, which surrounds the Interior (no-cut) Zone, constitute direct incursions into the virgin forest area. Under the judicial review standard of good faith objectivity, the Forest Service's revised environmental impact statement violates NEPA for failure to describe the proposed logging objective of these sales with sufficient specificity to allow thorough evaluation of possible environmental impacts.Nor did the EIS adequately describe and evaluate those impacts. The EIS also failed to discuss the order and size of long- and short-range cutting practices and their cumulative environmental impact, and to describe the adverse environmental impacts of alternative logging practices. Additional shortcomings of the impact statement include: employment of a conclusory matrix system that forces the reader to accept blindly the Forest Service's determinations of impacts and uses in the BWCA; failure to consider properly the irreversible commitment of the BWCA forest resources to recreational and "existence" values in concluding that logging of virgin timber results in the loss only of a "natural laboratory;" omission of the impacts of proposed logging in the Portal Zone on the increasing recreational and educational use of the Interior Zone; and failure to evaluate the impact of Portal Zone logging in the event that mining is permitted in the Interior Zone. NEPA's requirement of a detailed statement demands that the agency disclose the reasoning and supporting data for its environmental impact conclusions, an obligation which the Forest Service has not met in this case. Finally, the EIS failed to describe and comment on a reasoned choice of alternatives to the proposed logging, and arbitrarily assigned rankings to alternatives that give no clue to the reasons for the Forest Service's choices. An ambiguous EIS such as this cannot serve as a basis for critical evaluation for persons not associated with agency procedures. NEPA requires that future generations' planning and scientific research choices for the BWCA not be totally foreclosed. The court concludes that the Forest Service decision to log the Portal Zone arbitrarily gave insufficient weight to environmental factors and threatens unnecessary environmental degradation. The illogical decision to log the Portal Zone but not the Interior Zone for vegetative management purposes can be based only on the goal of commercial timber production, a goal that the Forest Service explicitly denied at trial.

The statutory language and legislative history of the Wilderness Act exhibit a congressional intent to preserve the primitive and wilderness character of the BWCA, despite the contemporary presence of logging. For statutory construction purposes, the adjective "wilderness" is synonymous with "primitive," even though the Wilderness Act gives the noun "wilderness" a specialized meaning. The prohibition of logging "particularly" in canoe access areas does not by exclusion allow logging that might destroy the primitive nature of other BWCA areas. Also, the statutory requirement of logging restrictions "necessary" to preserve the primitive character of the BWCA is not met by human management of nature. The general policy of maintaining the BWCA's primitive character governs in any conflict of possible uses of the BWCA. The court denies defendant's counterclaim that the EIS and Management Plan conform to the Wilderness Act. Defendanst are permanently enjoined under that Act from logging in areas contiguous to remaining large blocks of virgin forest. Under NEPA, defendants are enjoined from logging in the entire BWCA pending completion of an adequate EIS. Even though a balancing of equities is unnecessary, the court concludes that, in view of the irreparable harm to plaintiffs from logging and the arbitrary decision making engaged in by defendants, such a balancing would favor issuance of an injunction.

For previous opinions, see 4 ELR 20700 (8th Cir.); 3 ELR 20457 (D. Minn.), which list counsel, except for the following:

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Robert C. Lyman
Minnesota Public Interest Research Group
3036 University Ave., SE
Minneapolis MN 55414
(612) 376-7554

Counsel for Defendant
Francis X. Hermann Asst. U S Attorney
596 U.S. Courthouse
Minneapolis MN 55401
(612) 332-8961