Friends of Boundary Waters Wilderness v. Dombeck, s. 97-3282

Citation1999 WL 3942,164 F.3d 1115
Decision Date07 January 1999
Docket Number97-3292,Nos. 97-3282,s. 97-3282
Parties29 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,524 FRIENDS OF THE BOUNDARY WATERS WILDERNESS; Wilderness Watch; Sawbill Outfitters, Inc.; Izaak Walton League of America; The Wilderness Society; Wilderness Inquiry, Inc., Appellants, v. Michael P. DOMBECK, as Chief of the United States Forest Service; Daniel Glickman, as Secretary of Agriculture, Appellees. County of St. Louis, County of Lake, County of Cook, National Association of Canoe Liveries and Outfitters, Conservationists with Common Sense, Ely Outfitters Association, Grand Marais Gunflint Trail Outfitters Association, Harvey G. Solberg, Appellants, v. Michael P. Dombeck, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service; Daniel Glickman, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Appellees, Wilderness Inquiry, Inc.; Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness; Wilderness Watch; Sawbill Trail Outfitters Association, Intervenors-Appellees.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)

Richard Alan Duncan, Minneapolis, Minnesota, argued (Brian B. O'Neill and Elizabeth H. Schmiesing, on the brief), for Appellants in No. 97-3282.

David R. Oberstar, Duluth, Minnesota, argued, for Appellants in No. 97-3292.

Jeffrey C. Dobbins, Washington, DC, argued (Lois J. Schiffer, Michelle Gilbert, Robert L. Klarquist, and Vince Vukelich, on the brief), for Appellees.

Before WOLLMAN and HANSEN, Circuit Judges, and GOLDBERG, 1 Judge.

HANSEN, Circuit Judge.

This appeal involves two separate cases which were consolidated before the district court. The plaintiffs in each case sought judicial review of agency action taken by the defendants, the United States Forest Service and the United States Department of Agriculture. The agency action complained of involves the defendants' interpretation of the statutes governing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) Wilderness, which is located in the Superior National Forest along the United States and Canadian border in Minnesota. The challenged statutory interpretations, dealing with visitor and motorboat use restrictions in the BWCA Wilderness, are articulated in the Forest Service's BWCA Wilderness Management Plan and Implementation Schedule of 1993 (the Wilderness Plan). The parties submitted their cases to the district court on cross-motions for summary judgment. In each case, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, and the plaintiffs appeal. We affirm in part and reverse in part.


The Wilderness Act of 1964, 16 U.S.C. § 1131-36 (1994), established a national system of preserving and protecting federally held wilderness areas. The BWCA, comprising more than one million acres of land and waterways in the Superior National Forest, was among the initial wilderness areas designated for protection. See 16 U.S.C. § 1132. The BWCA Wilderness contains over one thousand portage-linked lakes, and it is a heavily visited wilderness area, though motorized vehicle use is severely restricted. See State of Minnesota By Alexander v. Block, 660 F.2d 1240, 1245 (8th Cir.1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 1007, 102 S.Ct. 1645, 71 L.Ed.2d 876 (1982). The Wilderness Act of 1964 generally prohibits the use of motorboats and motor vehicles within any designated wilderness, except as required for administration of the area. See 16 U.S.C. § 1133(c); Block, 660 F.2d at 1245. In the same 1964 Act, Congress muddied the waters, so to speak, by including a proviso which permitted the continuance within the BWCA of any already established use of motorboats. See 16 U.S.C. § 1133(d)(5) (1976), repealed by Pub.L. No. 95-495, 92 Stat. 1649, 1650 (1978). These provisions sparked a great deal of local controversy over motorboat use in the BWCA Wilderness. See Block, 660 F.2d at 1246.

In 1978, Congress provided additional guidance by enacting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act (the BWCA Wilderness Act), Pub.L. No. 95-495, 92 Stat. 1649 (1978). In doing so, it eliminated prior section 1133(d)(5) and in its place legislated a ban on the use of motorboats in the BWCA Wilderness except on particular named lakes, portions of lakes, and rivers. See 92 Stat. at 1650, § 4(c). Congress directed the Secretary to develop and implement entry point quotas to govern and restrict the use of motorboats on those particular lakes listed in section 4(c) where it had legislatively authorized their restricted use. 92 Stat. at 1651, § 4(f). The only specific guidance given to the Secretary concerning these quotas was a statutory cap on motorboat use, which prescribes that motorboat use "shall not exceed the average actual annual motorboat use" during the years 1976 through 1978. Id.

The Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service manage the BWCA Wilderness in accordance with a 1986 Land and Resource Management Plan for the Superior National Forest, amended by the BWCA Wilderness Management Plan and Implementation Schedule of 1993 (the Wilderness Plan), which is the challenged agency action in this suit. The Record of Decision accompanying the Wilderness Plan indicates that the Forest Service established these motorboat quotas after considering the pertinent legislation, Forest Service policy, the needs of the environment, the historic uses of the area, and the recreational needs of the visitors. The Record of Decision explains that the available information indicated that "use levels have begun to strain the wilderness environment" (Record of Decision at 7), and that "[t]he role of the Wilderness Plan is to guide the management of the Wilderness in a manner that maintains its naturalness and protects it for the use of future generations." (Id. at i.) To this end, and to implement the BWCA Wilderness Act, the Wilderness Plan restricts visitor and motorboat use within the BWCA through a quota system, entry point restrictions, special permits for commercial towboats, 2 and a special exemption from the motorboat quota system for homeowners, resort owners, and their guests. These are the provisions at issue.

One group of plaintiffs consists of several counties, concerned citizens, and outfitters in the BWCA (collectively, the Outfitters). The Outfitters brought suit challenging the Wilderness Plan, claiming the Plan's motorboat quotas, visitor use restrictions, and definition of "guest" unduly limit access to the BWCA Wilderness in violation of the BWCA Wilderness Act; the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 706 (1994); the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213 (1994); and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2) (1994). The other group of plaintiffs consists of several environmental groups concerned with the BWCA Wilderness (collectively, the Environmentalists). The Environmentalists intervened in the Outfitters' suit and brought a separate challenge to the Wilderness Plan, claiming that its special use permits for towboats and the Plan's grouping of certain listed chains of lakes on which homeowners, resort owners, and guests are exempt from the quota system, allow excessive motorized use in the area in violation of the BWCA Wilderness Act and the APA. In each case, the Forest Service asserted that the restrictions and definitions in the Wilderness Plan comply with all Congressional mandates and are not arbitrary or capricious.

The district court consolidated the two cases, and all parties sought summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture, dismissing the Outfitters' ADA claim (which is not appealed); dismissing the Outfitters' and Environmentalists' APA claims, concluding that the policies expressed in the Wilderness Plan are consistent with and a reasonable interpretation of the BWCA Wilderness Act; and dismissing the Outfitters' NEPA claims, concluding that the Outfitters lacked standing to assert the claims under NEPA. The plaintiffs appeal the dismissal of their APA claims and the Outfitters' NEPA claims.


We review a district court's summary judgment decision de novo, applying the same standards as those employed by the district court. See Phillips v. Taco Bell Corp., 156 F.3d 884, 887 (8th Cir.1998). Summary judgment is proper if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, demonstrates the absence of any genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The parties here have all moved for summary judgment, and they agree that no disputed issue of material fact remains. Consequently, we need only determine which party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

We bear in mind that when reviewing agency action, we accord "substantial deference to the agency's interpretation of the statutes and regulations it administers." Vue v. INS, 92 F.3d 696, 699 (8th Cir.1996) (citing Chevron USA, Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837, 842-44, 104 S.Ct. 2778, 81 L.Ed.2d 694 (1984)). We defer to the agency's interpretation "so long as it is not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not supported by law." State of Minnesota v. Apfel, 151 F.3d 742, 745 (8th Cir.1998) (internal quotations omitted); see 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(a). "Whether an agency's action is arbitrary and capricious depends on whether 'the agency has ... offered an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence before the agency, or is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise.' " Mausolf v. Babbitt, 125 F.3d 661, 669 (8th Cir.1997) (quoting Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43, 103 S.Ct. 2856, 77 L.Ed.2d 443 (1983)), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 118 S.Ct. 2366, 141 L.Ed.2d 735 (1998). When reviewing an agency's construction of a statute, the court first considers whether the intent of Congress is clear; if so, the court's inquiry...

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