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Intermountain Forest Indus. Ass'n v. Lyng

ELR Citation: 18 ELR 21057
Nos. Nos. C88-0009-B, -0010-B, 683 F. Supp. 1330/(D. Wyo., 04/18/1988)

The court rules that a timber management plan (TMP) is not binding on the Forest Service, and denies plaintiff industry groups a preliminary injunction requiring the Forest Service to manage the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming in accordance with the forest TMP. The court holds that plaintiffs are not entitled to a preliminary injunction that would require 1988 timber sales to match the TMP's projected annual harvest levels. First, plaintiffs have failed to show that they will suffer irreparable injury from the planned decrease in timber sales. Although one plaintiff may close its sawmill, there is no indication that the closure will be permanent or that it is solely the result of Forest Service policies. In addition, preliminary injunctive relief would not result in an early enough harvest to prevent closure of the sawmill, and even a harvest of all the timber contemplated by the TMP would not ensure continued operation of the sawmill.

Second, plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed on the merits. The court holds that the Forest Service has not violated the Organic Act of 1897. The planned timber harvest accords with the Organic Act's mandate that national forests produce a continuous supply of timber. The Organic Act does not require the Forest Service to manage national forests solely to furnish timber, and timber sales are discretionary under the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). The provisions of the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act rebut plaintiffs' assertion that the national forests must be managed primarily to produce economic benefits. The court next holds that the Forest Service complied with its own regulations. The management of the Bridger-Teton National Forest implements principles of sustained yield, with due consideration to the condition of the area and timber. The regulations require forest management to facilitate the stabilization of local economies and promote employment, but only so far as feasible. The court holds that the Forest Service did not violate the terms of the TMP by failing to revise its harvest projections. The TMP provides that review of its provisions is triggered by a 10 percent change in the commercial forest land areas or a five percent change in the potential yield, neither of which has occurred. In addition, the targets set by the TMP are the maximum amount of timber that may be harvested. Moreover, the court rules, the TMP is a statement of policy rather than a binding substantive rule because it does not affect individual rights and obligations, it does not appear to have been promulgated under a delegation of legislative power, and it was not adopted in compliance with the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. The TMP was designed to inform the public prospectively of how the Forest Service proposed to exercise its discretionary management powers. The court holds that there is no evidence that the Forest Service violated the Forest and Rangelands Renewable Resources Planning Act, the NFMA, or the National Environmental Policy Act by implementing a secret, ad hoc plan limiting timber harvests in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. In addition, the NFMA and the Wyoming Wilderness Act give the Forest Service discretion to depart from existing management plans.

Third, the balance of hardships favors the Forest Service. Closure of plaintiff's mill is not unusual and will occur despite judicial intervention. A preliminary injunction would require the Forest Service to divert personnel and resources from planning and to cut back services in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, to the detriment of tourism, recreation, ranchers, and small loggers. In addition, increased logging may have unforeseen environmental effects. Finally, the public interest will be best served by following existing forest management practices, which have been carefully structured to consider all forest resources.

Counsel for Defendants
Andrew F. Walch
Land & Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-5286

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Constance E. Brooks
Mountain States Legal Foundation
Suite 2300, 1660 Lincoln St., Denver CO 80264
(303) 861-0244

Counsel for Intervenors
Thomas D. Lustig, Christine A. Klein
National Wildlife Federation
Rocky Mountain Natural Resource Clinic
Campus Box 401, University of Colorado Law School, Boulder CO 80309
(303) 492-6552