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Wilderness Soc'y v. Tyrrel

Citation: 19 ELR 20557
No. No. CIV S-88-1322, 701 F. Supp. 1473/(E.D. Cal., 12/13/1988) Preliminary injunction issued

The court holds that a Forest Service plan to harvest burned timber in a national forest without completing a management plan for an adjacent wild and scenic river violates the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA). The court first holds that the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, and the WSRA do not require it to enjoin the timber harvest. In particular, the WSRA does not establish a presumption of irreparable injury requiring the court automatically to prohibit logging without first determining that it may substantially interfere with river preservation and assessing the balance of hardships. Nevertheless, the court must consider the WSRA's goal of environmental preservation when examining the balance of hardships.

The court holds that a federal agency with jurisdiction over lands adjacent to a designated river must implement a management plan protecting the river before conducting activities likely to threaten it, particularly timber harvesting and road construction. The Forest Service is responsible for managing the river on national forest land, although the state initiated its designation and is responsible for managing it on nonfederal land.

The court holds that the proposed timber harvest may have environmental impacts within a river corridor protected by the WSRA. The statute's provisions that corridors will generally extend one-quarter-mile from each riverbank apply only to federally designated rivers, not to state-designated rivers passing through federal land. The statute, the legislative history, and the environmental impact statements (EISs) designating the river and proposing the timber sale all suggest state and federal authority to designate broader corridors.

The court next holds that the Forest Service must adopt a management plan to protect the river under WSRA § 12(a), and may not indefinitely delay doing so. Because the plan may affect the scope of WSRA protection of the river, selling the timber before adopting the plan would violate the statute as well as the agency's own manual, which requires preparation of plans. The court also holds that the timber sale is significantly likely to degrade water quality, and that the Forest Service has failed to cooperate with the Environmental Protection Agency and other relevant agencies to control water pollution under WSRA § 12(c). These agencies uniformly opposed the timber sale because of its effects on water quality.

The court accordingly finds a significant likelihood that plaintiffs will prevail on their WSRA claim. The court also finds a significant likelihood that the Forest Service's failure to implement WSRA procedures and its own regulations may cause irreparable injury in the form of irreversible environmental degradation. The timber sale plan selected in the EIS may not be the plan most consistent with WSRA preservation values, and the mitigation measures in the EIS may not be adequate to prevent substantial interference with those values under WSRA § 10(a). The timber sale therefore may degrade the values protected by the WSRA. The court also holds that the balance of hardships lies with plaintiffs. The intervenor, the high bidder on the timber contract, may not veto federal environmental policy merely because cancellation of the sale will destroy its expectation of a profitable contract. The government's potential economic loss from cancellation also is not compelling if the sale would violate federal law. Finally, there are factual disputes about how great the economic losses will actually be.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Stephan C. Volker
Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Inc.
2044 Fillmore St., San Francisco CA 94115
(415) 567-6100

Counsel for Defendants
Karen Patterson, Mary L. Grad, Ass't U.S. Attorneys
3305 U.S. Courthouse, 650 Capitol Mall, Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 551-2700