Fed. Forest Res. Coal. v. Vilsack

Decision Date28 April 2015
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 12-1333 (KBJ)
PartiesFEDERAL FOREST RESOURCE COALITION, et al., Plaintiffs, v. THOMAS J. VILSACK, Secretary of Agriculture, et al., Defendants, and KLAMATH-SISKIYOU WILDLANDS CENTER, et al., Defendant-Intervenors.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Congress has charged the United States Forest Service with the management of 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands covering over 180 million acres of forest and rangeland throughout the United States. See 16 U.S.C. § 1604(a); 36 C.F.R. § 200.3(b)(2). The Forest Service promulgates a "Planning" rule to achieve this mandate, see 36 C.F.R. § 219 et seq., and this set of regulations governs the Forest Service's development of individual land and resource management plans for the national forests and grasslands that the agency oversees. Forest-resource stakeholders (such as environmental groups, recreational interest groups, and industry groups that promote timber harvest, mining, and grazing) have long debated the appropriate termsof the Planning rule—i.e., which specific procedural requirements the Forest Service should adopt to guide it in developing land use management plans—and the Forest Service has promulgated five successive Planning rules since 1979, each of which has been controversial, and some of which have even been invalidated by federal courts.

This case concerns the Forest Service's latest Planning rule, which was promulgated in 2012. See National Forest System Land Management Planning, 77 Fed. Reg. 21,162 (April 9, 2012) (codified at 36 C.F.R. pt. 219). Plaintiffs are a number of trade associations and nonprofit corporations that represent members of the timber/lumber industry, along with other groups whose members use national forest lands for recreation. The gravamen of Plaintiffs' complaint, which has been filed against Defendants Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in his official capacity and the Forest Service (collectively, "Defendants" or "the Government"), is the contention that the 2012 Planning Rule exceeds the Forest Service's statutory authority by requiring land management plans to privilege environmental goals, such as maintaining "ecological sustainability" and "ecosystem services," over other competing uses of national forests, such as logging, grazing, and recreation. Plaintiffs claim that by privileging environmental interests over other interests, the 2012 Planning Rule violates three separate statutes that set forth the purposes of the national forests: the Organic Administration Act of 1897 ("OAA"), 16 U.S.C. §§ 473-75, 477-82, 551; the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 ("MUSYA"), 16 U.S.C. §§ 528-31; and the National Forest Management Act of 1976 ("NFMA"), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1600-1614. Plaintiffs also argue that the 2012 Planning Rule is inconsistent with the OAA, MUSYA, and NFMA in a number of other respects, and that Plaintiffs were not afforded an adequateopportunity to comment on the definitions of three words that are used in the 2012 Planning Rule—words that Plaintiffs believe are critically important to how the 2012 Planning Rule will be implemented.

Before this Court at present are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment based on the administrative record. Plaintiffs' motion reiterates the complaint's core contention that the 2012 Planning Rule is manifestly inconsistent with the OAA, MUSYA, and NFMA. Defendants' motion argues, as a threshold matter, that Plaintiffs' case should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because Plaintiffs lack standing to challenge to the 2012 Planning Rule and this dispute is not yet ripe for adjudication. On the merits, Defendants are joined by several environmental organizations that have intervened to argue that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment because the 2012 Planning Rule does not exceed Defendants' authority under the OAA, MUSYA, and NFMA.

On March 31, 2015, this Court entered an order stating that Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment was DENIED; Defendants' Motion to Dismiss was GRANTED; and the Intervenor-Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment was DENIED as moot. This Memorandum Opinion explains the reasoning behind that ruling. Specifically, this Court has concluded that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction with respect to Plaintiffs' claims, and thus cannot reach the merits of those claims, because Plaintiffs have failed to identify an injury-in-fact that they have suffered, or will imminently suffer, as a result of Defendants' promulgation of the 2012 Planning Rule. In other words, Plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the 2012 Planning Rule in federal court, and as a result, Plaintiffs' lawsuit cannot proceed.

A. Land And Resource Management Of National Forests

The national forests of the United States are subject to "a dynamic management system, akin to a zoning ordinance, that regulates future project-level decisionmaking." Michael J. Gippert & Vincent L. DeWitte, The Nature of Land and Resource Management Planning Under the National Forest Management Act, 3 Envtl. Law. 149, 154 (1996). Congress first authorized the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA") to manage national forest lands—and first articulated the goals of the national forest management system—in the OAA, 30 Stat. 11, 34-36 (June 4, 1897) (codified as amended at 16 U.S.C. §§ 473-75, 477-82, 551), a statute that specifically provides that the national forest system exists for two purposes: "[1] to improve and protect the forest within the boundaries, or for the purpose of securing favorable conditions of water flows, and [2] to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use and necessities of citizens of the United States." 16 U.S.C. § 475. Congress augmented this initial statement of purposes in the MUSYA, 74 Stat. 215 (June 12, 1960) (codified as amended at 16 U.S.C. §§ 528-31), which states that "[i]t is the policy of the Congress that the national forests are established and shall be administered for outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes." 16 U.S.C. § 528. The MUSYA also specifically references the environmental resources management principles of "multiple use" and "sustained yield," and directs Secretary of Agriculture—who acts in this area through the Forest Service—"to develop and administer the renewable surface resources of the national forests for multiple use and sustained yield of the several products and services obtained therefrom." Id. § 529; see also id. § 531(a) (defining "multiple use" as the "management of all the variousrenewable surface resources of the national forests so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people"); id. § 531(b) (defining "sustained yield" as "the achievement and maintenance in perpetuity of a high-level annual or regular periodic output of the various renewable resources of the national forests without impairment of the productivity of the land"). According to the D.C. Circuit, "these statutes make clear a congressional intention that the national forests should play a significant role in supplying timber," and "[t]hey also, especially the later statutes, indicate a purpose to advance outdoor recreation[.]" Mountain States Legal Foundation v. Glickman, 92 F.3d 1228, 1236 (D.C. Cir. 1996).

Significantly for present purposes, in 1976, Congress enacted the NFMA, 90 Stat. 2949 (Oct. 22, 1976) (originally enacted as the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974) (codified as amended at 16 U.S.C. §§ 1600-1614), a statute that expressly adopts the statutory purposes laid out in the OAA and MUSYA; makes additional findings; and establishes a detailed land and resource management scheme that the Forest Service must follow in order to further those purposes. The NFMA, which seeks "to balance the protection of natural ecosystems on public lands with the industrial and recreational uses of those lands[,]" was Congress' attempt to address the conflicting interests that often vie for priority when forest resources are at stake. Vanessa Wishart, Before Beginning, Plan Carefully: A Call for Public Comment on the New Forest Planning Rule, 2010 Wis. L. Rev. 1537, 1540. Congress specifically acknowledged in the statute "the necessity for a long term perspective in planning" how renewable forest resources would be managed. Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, Pub. L. No. 93-378 §2 (codified as amended by theNFMA at 16 U.S.C. §§ 1600-1614). To this end, the NFMA commands the Forest Service to "develop, maintain, and, as appropriate, revise land and resource management plans for units of the National Forest System[.]" 16 U.S.C. § 1604(a).

Pursuant to the NFMA, the Forest Service regulates the land and resources of national forests through "a three-tiered regulatory approach to forest management, with different tiers existing at the national, regional and local levels." Citizens for Better Forestry v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 632 F. Supp. 2d 968, 970 (N.D. Cal. 2009); see also 16 U.S.C. §§ 1600 et seq. The instant case involves the first tier—i.e., the set of USDA regulations that outline the procedures that the Forest Service must follow in planning for resource allocation across all national forests. See 16 U.S.C. § 1604(g). The agency's "Planning" rule (as these regulations are titled) essentially lays out a series of steps for developing individual land and resource management plans for national forests, and the Planning rule thereby governs the Forest Service's future consideration of proposed activities on forest land at the regional and local levels.

Notably, the Planning rule itself is mandated in the NMFA, see 16 U.S.C. § 1604(g), and not only must the agency's Planning rule guide the development of land and resource plans that are consistent with the purposes of...

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