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Wilderness Soc'y v. Thomas

ELR Citation: 29 ELR 21444
Nos. No. 98-16693, 188 F.3d 1130/(9th Cir., 08/24/1999)

The court holds that the U.S. Forest Service did not violate the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) when it adopted a forest plan for the Prescott National Forest in Arizona that identified certain forest land as suitable for grazing. The court first holds that the claims alleged by the environmental groups in count one, a general challenge to the forest plan, are not justiciable. However, claims alleging site-specific injuries at two allotments within the forest are ripe for adjudication. The groups alleged a site-specific injury causally related to a plan defect. Moreover, the claims present a question of law, thus, the court would not benefit from future factual development. In addition, because the groups seek to compel the agency to comply with an alleged NFMA requirement, judicial intervention would not interfere inappropriately with further administrative action.

The court next holds that the Forest Service adequately considered both the economic and environmental consequences, as well as opportunities foregone, associated with the different grazing suitability levels in its analysis of alternatives at the environmental impact statement (EIS) stage of the forest planning process. It cannot be said that the agency's approach to determining grazing suitability within the consideration of alternatives in the EIS is plainly inconsistent with or contrary to the dictates of the applicable NFMA regulation. The court then holds that the agency's determination of grazing suitability was not predetermined by its use of a Forest Service computer program. The program provides an analysis of the economic consequences of various planning assumptions, and an examination of alternatives is precisely what is required of the Forest Service. Last, the court holds that the Forest Service did not violate the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Because the Forest Service complied with the NFMA in adopting the forest plan, including the grazing suitability determination therein, the groups' APA claim must fail.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Deborah S. Reames
Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund
180 Montgomery St., Ste. 1400, San Francisco CA 94104
(415) 627-6700

Counsel for Defendants
Lisa E. Jones
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Choy and Fernandez, JJ.