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Ohio Forestry Ass'n v. Sierra Club

ELR Citation: 28 ELR 21119
Nos. 97-16, 118 S. Ct. 1665/46 ERC 1577/(U.S., 05/18/1998) Vacated and remanded

The Court holds that an environmental group's challenge to a U.S. Forest Service land and resource management plan (LRMP) for Wayne National Forest in Ohio is not yet ripe for review. The environmental group brought suit alleging that the Forest Service's approval of the Wayne National Forest LRMP violated the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and its duties as public trustees. The district court determined that the Forest Service acted lawfully. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit held that the suit was ripe for review, and that the LRMP improperly favored clearcutting and therefore violated the NFMA.

In finding the case unripe, the Court first holds that withholding court consideration at present will not cause the parties significant hardship. The LRMP does not give anyone a legal right to cut trees, nor does it abolish anyone's legal authority to object to trees being cut. Before the Forest Service can permit logging, it must focus on a particular site, propose a specific harvesting method, prepare an environmental review, permit the public an opportunity to be heard, and, if challenged, justify the proposal in court. Thus, the group will have ample opportunity to bring its legal challenge at a later time when harm is more imminent and more certain. The Court also rejects the group's argument that it would be easier and cheaper to challenge the LRMP once, rather than challenging each site-specific logging decision. One initial site-specific victory could extend to other sites via preclusion principles, and cost-saving by itself has never been sufficient to justify review in a case.

The Court then holds that immediate judicial review directed at the lawfulness of logging and clearcutting could hinder agency efforts to refine its policies through revision or application of the LRMP. The Court also holds that further factual development would significantly advance its ability to deal with the legal issues presented and would aid in their resolution. Judicial review of the group's claims now would require time-consuming review of a plan that may affect many different parcels of land in a variety of ways, and the effects may change over time. In addition, depending on the Forest Service's future actions, review now may turn out to be unnecessary. The Court further holds that Congress did not provide for preimplementation judicial review of the LRMPs.

Last, the Court notes that the environmental group's claim that the LRMP will permit many intrusive activities, such as opening trails to motorcycles or using heavy machinery, that will occur without any additional consideration of their impact on wilderness recreation is not fairly presented. The issue was raised for the first time in the briefs on the merits to the Court, and the environmental group's complaint does not include such claims. Therefore, the Court cannot hear the claims.

[Prior decisions in this litigation are published at 25 ELR 20052 and 27 ELR 20501.]

Counsel for Petitioner
Steven P. Quarles
Crowell & Moring
1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20004
(202) 624-2500

Counsel for Respondent
Frederick M. Gittes
Spater, Gittes, Schulte & Kolman
723 Oak St., Columbus OH 43205
(614) 221-1160

Patti A. Goldman, Todd D. True
Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund
705 Second Ave., Ste. 203, Seattle WA 98104
(206) 343-7340