696 F.2d 734 (10th Cir. 1982), 81-1040, Rocky Mountain Oil and Gas Ass'n v. Watt

Docket Nº:81-1040, 81-1041.
Citation:696 F.2d 734
Party Name:ROCKY MOUNTAIN OIL AND GAS ASSOCIATION, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. James G. WATT, Secretary of the Interior, et al., Defendants-Appellants, and Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, and Wilderness Society, Intervenors-Appellants.
Case Date:November 30, 1982
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Page 734

696 F.2d 734 (10th Cir. 1982)



James G. WATT, Secretary of the Interior, et al.,



Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National

Wildlife Federation, and Wilderness Society,


Nos. 81-1040, 81-1041.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

November 30, 1982

Rehearing Denied Jan. 25, 1983.

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Thomas H. Pacheco, Atty., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C. (Carol E. Dinkins, Asst. Atty. Gen., Washington, D.C., Richard A. Stacy, U.S. Atty., Cheyenne, Wyo., Carolyn P. Osolinik and Robert L. Klarquist, Attys., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., with him on the brief), for defendants-appellants.

Laurens H. Silver of Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Inc., San Francisco, Cal. (John Wiener, Laramie, Wyo., with him on the brief), for intervenors-appellants.

Pamela A. Ray, Denver, Colo. (Craig R. Carver, Denver, Colo., with her on the brief), of Head, Moye, Carver & Ray, Denver, Colo., for plaintiff-appellee.

Mary Jane C. Due, Washington, D.C., filed an amicus curiae brief for American Mining Congress.

Before DOYLE, McKAY and SEYMOUR, Circuit Judges.

SEYMOUR, Circuit Judge.

In this case, plaintiff Rocky Mountain Oil and Gas Association (RMOGA) challenged the Department of the Interior's interpretation of section 603(c) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, 43 U.S.C. Sec. 1782(c) (1976) (FLPMA or Act), as it relates to oil and gas activity on public lands under federal lease. RMOGA sought declaratory and injunctive relief barring Interior's application of a "nonimpairment" standard of protection for wilderness values when it considers lessees' applications to conduct exploration and development activities in Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Areas. Several environmental groups sought and were granted permission to intervene as party defendants. The district court granted RMOGA's motion for summary judgment, concluding that Interior's interpretation of section 603 was erroneous as a matter of law, and vacating Interior's programs promulgated under that section. On appeal, we hold that the trial court erred in its interpretation of section 603. Accordingly, we reverse.



  1. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), located within the Department of the Interior, administers roughly one-fifth of our Nation's land mass, approximately 450 million acres of federal lands. H.Rep. No. 1163, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 2, reprinted in 1976 U.S.Code Cong. & Ad.News 6175; S.Rep. No. 583, 94th Cong., 1st Sess. 24 (1975), reprinted in Comm. on Energy & Natural Resources, Legislative History of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, at 89 (1978). The beauty of some of these lands rivals that of our most spectacular national parks and forests. Nevertheless, until recently Congress had not established a comprehensive statutory base for the management of these lands, as it had for the smaller national park, forest, and wildlife refuge systems. Instead, the BLM was charged with administering the lands and their resources under a myriad of public land laws serving a variety of competing and often conflicting interests. 121 Cong.Rec. 1846 (1975). Recognizing the need to provide guidance and a comprehensive statement of congressional policies concerning the management of the public lands, 1 Congress enacted the Federal Land

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    Policy and Management Act of 1976, 43 U.S.C. Secs. 1701-1782 (1976 & Supp. III 1979).

    The FLPMA is a complex statute, containing many interdependent sections in order to provide the BLM with a versatile framework for its management efforts. Consequently, individual provisions must be examined in the overall context of the Act. Section 603, at issue in this case, lies at the heart of the Act's land inventory and management processes. Therefore, we undertake a short examination of the FLPMA's purposes and inventory procedures before construing section 603.

    The national policy declared in the FLPMA stands in marked contrast to the many older public land statutes that provided for the wholesale disposition of the public lands. 2 The FLPMA requires the retention of public lands in public ownership unless, through the Act's extensive land use planning procedures, disposition of a parcel of land is found to be in the national interest, FLPMA Sec. 102(a)(1), 43 U.S.C. Sec. 1701(a)(1). The public lands are to be managed in a manner

    "that will protect the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource, and archeological values; that, where appropriate, will preserve and protect certain public lands in their natural condition; that will provide food and habitat for fish and wildlife and domestic animals; and that will provide for outdoor recreation and human occupancy and use."

    Id. Sec. 102(a)(8), 43 U.S.C. Sec. 1701(a)(8). At the same time, the public lands are to be managed in recognition of "the Nation's need for domestic sources of minerals, food, timber, and fiber from the public lands." Id. Sec. 102(a)(12), 43 U.S.C. Sec. 1701(a)(12).

    The FLPMA requires Interior to recognize competing values. To accomplish this legislative directive within a finite land base, it is necessary to realize that the Act provides a comprehensive statement of congressional policies. It represents an attempt by Congress to balance the use of the public lands by interests as diverse as the lands themselves. Accordingly, Congress provided that the BLM should manage the public lands by using the Act's procedures in a dynamic, evolving manner to accommodate these competing demands. 3 Congress directed the BLM to manage the public lands on a "multiple use" basis, id. Secs. 102(a)(7), 302(a), 43 U.S.C. Secs. 1701(a)(7), 1732(a), "making the most judicious use of the land for some or all of [the public land] resources" and using "some land for less than all of the resources," where appropriate, id. Sec. 103(c), 43 U.S.C. Sec. 1702(c). Thus, under sections 102(a)(7)-(8), (12), and 302(a), the BLM need not permit all resource uses on a given parcel of land. 4

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    The FLPMA contains comprehensive inventorying and land use planning provisions to ensure that the "proper multiple use mix of retained public lands" be achieved. H.Rep. No. 1163, supra, at 2, U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1976, 6176. Section 201(a) directs the Secretary to prepare and maintain an inventory of all public lands and their values. 43 U.S.C. Sec. 1711(a). The Secretary also is required to review those roadless areas in excess of 5,000 acres identified in the inventory process as having "wilderness characteristics described in the Wilderness Act," and to recommend such areas as suitable or unsuitable for preservation as wilderness. FLPMA Sec. 603(a), 43 U.S.C. Sec. 1782(a).

    Several sections of the Act prescribe management standards for the BLM. In general, the BLM is to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of the public lands. Id. Sec. 302(b), 43 U.S.C. Sec. 1732(b). Section 505 provides additional directives for the administration of rights-of-way. 43 U.S.C. Sec. 1765. Section 603(c) establishes the standards for lands under wilderness review. During the review period, and until Congress determines otherwise, Interior is required to manage the lands under review

    "in a manner so as not to impair the suitability of such areas for preservation as wilderness, subject, however, to the continuation of existing mining and grazing uses and mineral leasing in the manner and degree in which the same was being conducted on October 21, 1976: Provided, That, in managing the public lands the Secretary shall by regulation or otherwise take any action required to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of the lands and their resources or to afford environmental protection."

    43 U.S.C. Sec. 1782(c).

  2. Administrative Interpretation and Policy

    Interior interpreted section 603(c) as requiring all activities not protected under the section's "grandfather" clause to be regulated so as not to impair a Wilderness Study Area's (WSA's) suitability as wilderness. BLM Wilderness Review--Section 603, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, 86 Interior Dec. 91, 99, 101-02, 109-11 (1978) (hereinafter cited as Solicitor's Opinion). 5 The Solicitor interpreted the grandfather clause as exempting from the nonimpairment standard the actual uses of an area as they existed on the date of the Act's passage. Thus, mining and grazing activities, and activities on mineral leases, are considered permissible within a WSA to the extent that such operations were actually occurring on October 21, 1976. Id. at 111-12, 114-15. Under the Solicitor's interpretation, grandfathered uses are themselves subject to regulation to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of the WSA and its resources, and to protect the environment. Id. at 118-19.

    Pursuant to the Solicitor's Opinion, the BLM developed the Wilderness Inventory Handbook and the Interim Management Policy and Guidelines for Lands Under Wilderness Review (IMP). 6 These documents set out Interior's management policies concerning section 603's wilderness review, and detail Interior's interpretation of the nonimpairment standard. 7

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    In 1978, Interior initiated its wilderness review program. Initially, a "wilderness inventory" process is used to identify those roadless areas of 5,000 acres or more and those roadless islands that may have wilderness characteristics. An "intensive inventory" is then performed on those areas. Areas identified at this stage as meeting section 603's requirements are designated "Wilderness Study Areas." WSAs are then studied to determine whether they will be recommended as suitable or...

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