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Wilderness Soc'y v. Griles

Citation: 17 ELR 21117
No. No. 86-5205, 824 F.2d 4/(D.C. Cir., 07/10/1987)

The court holds that two conservation groups have not shown sufficient injury-in-fact to establish standing in their challenge to the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM's) decision to exclude submerged lands underneath nonnavigable waters from the total acreage charged to the State of Alaska's or native corporations' land allocations under the Alaska Statehood Act or the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), but they have demonstrated that they are within the zone of interests to be protected under both statutes and should have been afforded the opportunity to engage in discovery concerning the effect of BLM's decision on specific lands. In 1983 BLM changed its policy regarding the chargeability of submerged lands so as not to include lands underneath nonnavigable waters in the total acreage allotted to the state and native groups under the Statehood Act and ANCSA. As a result, both groups may eventually come into possession of land acreage greater than the amounts specified in the two statutes. The court first holds that plaintiffs have not shown a sufficient threat of personal injury to establish standing. Although plaintiffs and plaintiffs' members have an interest in access to federal public lands, and it is clear that additional lands will be transferred out of federal control as a result of the challenged policy, plaintiffs cannot point to any specific lands that they wish to use that will be transferred. The court holds that injury can be established prior to the time when either the state or the natives are granted title to more land than specified by the statutes. BLM has begun to implement its new policy by crediting allotments already conveyed to native groups, thus paving the way for selections of additional acreage over and above the originally calculated totals. Although the record does not list specific public lands that are both affected by the policy and used by plaintiffs' members, the new policy's impact on plaintiffs' access is not clear from the record, possibly since the district court denied plaintiffs' discovery request. The court holds, however, that the current record does not provide sufficient evidence of injury-in-fact. The fact that there will eventually be fewer acres of public lands in Alaska is insufficient to threaten plaintiffs with injury, since it is possible that none of the public lands affected by the new policy will be ones that plaintiffs use and enjoy.

The court holds that plaintiffs have demonstrated that their injury, should they show it to exist, is fairly traceable to BLM's decision and that the court can redress that injury. However the state and natives choose to use the transferred lands, the power to make that choice will have been the result of BLM's new policy giving them legal ownership. Moreover, a court order reinstating the old policy would likely redress any injury to plaintiffs, since the lands in question would remain in federal hands and thus be available for plaintiffs' use. In a note, the court holds that plaintiffs have also satisfied the zone of interests test for standing.

The court directs the district court, without deciding the issues on the merits, to address plaintiffs' claims that BLM should have prepared an environmental assessment and environmental impact statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act before implementing the new policy. The court also holds that plaintiffs have not established standing to challenge BLM's failure to follow the Administrative Procedure Act's notice and comment procedures, but that they may renew this claim if they can show standing on remand. The court holds that the district court's refusal to allow plaintiffs to amend their complaint to allege violation of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act was not an abuse of discretion, since the motion occurred more than a year after the original complaint was filed. Finally, the court holds that the district court abused its discretion by denying plaintiffs' discovery requests and granting the defendants' motion for summary judgment, since this prevented plaintiffs from obtaining information concerning the effect of BLM's new policy on specific lands and thus may have prevented plaintiffs from establishing standing.

Counsel for Appellants
Ronald J. Wilson
Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.
1350 New York Ave. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20005
(202) 783-7800

Counsel for Appellees
Roger J. Marzulla, Deputy Ass't Attorney General
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2716

Before: WALD, Chief Judge, EDWARDS and D. H. GINSBURG, Circuit Judges.