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Citizens for Better Forestry v. Department of Agric.

ELR Citation: 33 ELR 20263
Nos. No. 02-16009, (9th Cir., 08/28/2003)

The court reverses a district court decision that environmental groups failed to establish both standing and ripeness in their National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA) challenges to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule defining the new national forest management policy. Before the district court ruled, the groups agreed to stay their claims on the merits, but continued with their procedural challenges. Contrary to the district court's ruling, the groups have standing to pursue their procedural claims. The groups suffered an injury when they were deprived of the NEPA opportunity to comment on the rule's environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact and when the USDA failed to conduct ESA procedural consultation and a biological assessment. The groups also alleged that they will suffer harm by virtue of proximity and use of areas affected by the new policy. The groups also established that the USDA rule threatens their concrete interests by eliminating previous species viability requirements, specific management requirements, and the post-decision appeal process. Moreover, although the rule results in indirect environmental effects, Ninth Circuit precedent provides that environmental plaintiffs have standing to challenge not only direct effects from site-specific plans, but also higher level, programmatic rules that impose or remove requirements on site-specific plans. The groups also showed causation and redressability since citizen participation in the rulemaking probably would have influenced rule development, and they meet the requirements for associational and constitutional standing. In addition, the groups' challenge is ripe for review because judicial action would not interfere with rulemaking, no further factual development is necessary, and delayed review would cause hardship to the groups by allowing the USDA to implement the rule.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Michael Axline
Western Environmental Law Center
1216 Lincoln St., Eugene OR 97401
(541) 485-2471

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