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Southeast Conference v. Vilsack

ELR Citation: 40 ELR 20047
Nos. No. 08-1598, (D.D.C., 02/17/2010)

A district court granted the United States’ motion for summary judgment to find that certain timber harvesting provisions of a forest management plan did not violate the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) and the Tongass Timber Reform Act (TTRA). Plaintiffs—several Alaskan cities and regional, non-profit corporations—brought suit under the APA to challenge the management plan on three grounds: (1) the “old growth reserves” land use designation “withdraws” land in violation of ANILCA; (2) the strategy to allow timber harvest to proceed in phases makes it improbable that the United States will be able to fulfill its obligation under the TTRA to seek to meet market demand for an integrated timber industry; and (3) the management plan imposes “non-statutory” constraints on the United States’ obligation under TTRA to seek to meet market demand for an integrated timber industry. The court disagreed on each ground. First, a “withdrawal” exempts covered land from the operation of laws that otherwise authorize the transfer of federal lands to the private domain for private use. Land use designations neither exempt lands from the operation of public land laws nor suspend the operation of those laws on certain lands. Accordingly, the land use designation of “old growth reserves” is not a withdrawal. Second, the TTRA only instructs the United States to seek to provide a supply of timber from the Tongass National Forest that meets the annual market demand for timber from such forest and meets the market demand from such forest for each planning cycle. It says nothing at all about an integrated timber industry. The United States is therefore not obligated to seek to meet the market demand of an integrated timber industry in its management plan. And, even if plaintiffs had properly challenged the United States’ projections of market demand, they failed to provide sufficient evidence to show that the United States was incorrect in concluding that the management plan would permit it to meet these projections. Third, plaintiffs present no argument that the “non-statutory” constraints specifically limit the United States’ ability to meet market demand, but cast their argument in terms of market demand for an integrated timber industry. Accordingly, this argument must also fail.