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Citizens for Balanced Use v. Montana Wilderness Ass'n

ELR Citation: 41 ELR 20246
Nos. No. 10-35823, (9th Cir., 07/26/2011)

The Ninth Circuit held that environmental groups may intervene in a citizen suit against the U.S. Forest Service concerning restricted motorized and mechanized vehicle use in a section of the Gallatin National Forest. In the underlying action, the citizens group argued that the Forest Service's plan was overly restrictive. The environmental groups filed their motion to intervene 10 days later, but the lower court denied their motion, concluding that the groups failed to show how the Forest Service could not adequately represent their interest. The citizens group argued that intervention was properly denied because the environmental groups and the Forest Service share the same ultimate objective—upholding the validity of the plan. But the Forest Service acted under compulsion of an earlier court decision gained by the environmental groups' previous litigation, and the Forest Service is appealing the decision that led them to adopt the now-challenged plan. Because the environmental groups wish to defend the plan as containing the kind of restrictions that are statutorily mandated by the Montana Wilderness Study Act to protect wilderness character, while the Forest Service may assert only that the plan was compelled by a prior court decision that the agency is seeking to overturn, the environmental groups and the Forest Service have distinct interests and objectives. Because the groups' motion was timely, they have a significant protectable interest in the action, and the disposition of this action may impair or impede their ability to protect their interest, the environmental groups satisfied the requirements for intervention as of right under Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a). The lower court's denial was therefore reversed and remanded.