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Mountain States Legal Found. v. Glickman

ELR Citation: 26 ELR 20685
Nos. No. 92-0097 (RCL), 922 F. Supp. 628/(D.D.C., 04/18/1995)

The court holds that groups representing timber interests lack standing to challenge the U.S. Forest Service's selected management alternative for 360 timber-harvest units in the Upper Yaak River Area of the Kootenai National Forest. The groups claimed that the selected alternative, Alternative 9A, failed to secure a continuous supply of timber, in violation of the Forest Service Organic Act, the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), and the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act (MUSYA), by not adequately addressing the potential for wildfire caused by mountain pine beetle infestation. The groups sought to force the Forest Service to implement Alternative 6, which allowed more harvesting. The court first holds that the groups have failed to establish injury-in-fact. Their asserted injuries are exclusively economic, as evidenced by the fact that each of the members representing the groups alleged harm only to their respective businesses. But the Organic Act, the MUSYA, and the NFMA do not provide a legally cognizable economic interest in a specified level of timber harvest. Further, the alleged wildfire injury is not imminent. The possibility that a wildfire is more imminent under Alternative 9A compared with the risk under Alternative 6 is mere speculation, and other key elements in wildfire suppression have resulted in a minimal loss of timber resources by wildfire in recent years. The court next holds that the alleged injury is not fairly traceable to the Forest Service's action, because there is no evidence that the Forest Service's action will cause a significantly increased risk of wildfire. The court holds that the groups' alleged injury will not be redressed by a decision in their favor. Selection of Alternative 6 would not necessarily prevent a wildfire. Further, Alternative 6 would violate the Endangered Species Act because, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion, it is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the grizzly bear. Alternative 6 therefore could not be implemented. If the court decided in the groups' favor, the Forest Service would have to reconsider only the options that would not jeopardize the bear, which might not redress the groups' alleged injury. And even if Alternative 6 could be implemented, the plaintiff group members would not be guaranteed any right to purchase the timber.

The court notes that even if the groups had standing, the court would dismiss their claims on the merits. The Forest Service did not act arbitrarily and capriciously in selecting a water-yield model and in considering the risk of wildfire to the grizzly bear. Further, the groups incorrectly assert that the primary purpose of the Organic Act, the MUSYA, and the NFMA is to require the Forest Service to secure a continuous supply of timber. Both case law and the plain language of the statutes indicate that the Forest Service is to administer forests according to the multiple-use sustained-yield standard. Moreover, the Forest Service clearly recognized the importance of timber harvesting to the area. The court next notes that an affidavit of one group member claiming that harvesting timber is the only way to control the mountain pine beetle infestation is not sufficient to overcome the deference granted to the Forest Service. Last, the court holds that the groups have offered no evidence indicating that the Forest Service has failed to comply with NFMA regulations.

Counsel not available at this printing.