Izaak Walton League of America v. St. Clair

Decision Date05 January 1973
Docket NumberNo. 5-69 Civ. 70.,5-69 Civ. 70.
Citation353 F. Supp. 698
PartiesIZAAK WALTON LEAGUE OF AMERICA, a not for profit corporation, Plaintiff, v. George W. ST. CLAIR et al., Defendants, and Robert E. Gardner et al., Additional Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota


Popham, Haik, Schnobrich, Kaufman & Doty by Raymond A. Haik, Minneapolis, Minn., for plaintiff.

Robert G. Renner, U. S. Atty. by Arthur D. Smith, Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., for defendants Hardin, Cliff and Rupp.

Warren Spannaus, Atty. Gen., State of Minn. by Philip J. Olfelt, Special Asst. Atty. Gen., for defendants Leirfallom and Logan.

Sullivan, Hanft, Hastings, Fride & O'Brien by William P. O'Brien and Gaylord Swelbar, Duluth, Minn., for defendants St. Clair, Robert E. Gardner, Evelyn A. Gardner, William A. Gardner, Marea B. Gardner, Jane G. Head, Murdock Head, Michigaumi Iron Co. and Muskegon Bank and Trust Co.

NEVILLE, District Judge.

This declaratory judgment action is brought by the Izaak Walton League of America, a non-profit organization formed in 1922, which interests itself inter alia in the field of conservation and the use of land areas in the United States. One area in which it has been extremely active is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in Northern Minnesota extending many miles along the Canadian border and embodying a great many lakes and streams, containing 1,031,204 acres approximately, and a part of the larger area known as the Superior National Forest. It alleges that it long has supported the Federal and State governments in securing legislation protecting wilderness areas generally and that in connection with the BWCA it further went to the extent of purchasing some 7,000 acres, later selling or transferring the same to the United States at something less than its purchase price.

Defendants are (1) George W. St. Clair1, who claims to be the lessee of mineral rights underlying approximately 150,000 acres of land in the BWCA, (2) the so-called "Federal defendants" i.e., the United States Secretary of Agriculture, the Chief of the United States Forest Service and the Supervisor of the Superior National Forest, the three of whom regulate and manage the national forests and the BWCA, (3) the so-called "State defendants", i. e., the State of Minnesota Conservation Commissioner and the Commissioner of Taxation, both of whom in different ways have jurisdiction over State lands, and (4) a number of other defendants who are lessors to St. Clair as owners of the mineral rights, later joined by the court by order dated April 19, 1971.

The BWCA is an irregularly shaped area extending 110 miles more or less from east to west hugging the Canadian border and at places measuring 30 miles or more from north to south. Included within it are hundreds of lakes and streams through which one in a canoe, with numerous portages, can pass virtually from one end to the other in an east-west direction said to be the "Highway of the Voyageurs" of the 18th Century. It complements and abuts the Quetico Superior Park on the Canadian side of the border, subject to certain international agreements and treaties including the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842. With the exception of logging largely years ago and certain scarring by forest fires, the area remains substantially in a natural state with large stands of virgin timber. All former private resorts in the area have now been or are being removed and closed and travel in the area by airplane, motor boat or any motorized vehicle is strictly prohibited. It is a roadless area and the establishment of camps is rigidly regulated. Other regulatory means exercised both by the State and Federal governments are employed to keep the area in its pristine condition. From 100,000 to 150,000 people a year including Boy Scout troops and others from all over the United States are said to enter the area and canoe, tramp or camp therein.

From a stipulation of facts filed by counsel it appears that approximately 71.3% or 742,800 acres within the BWCA are owned by the United States, 26.3% including lake beds by the State of Minnesota, 1.4% by counties and approximately 1% privately, though gradually by condemnation, expiration of life estates and otherwise this 1% is decreasing. On the other hand of the underlying mineral rights, the United States owns only 44% or 458,224 acres, the State of Minnesota and counties the same 26.3% and 1.4% with the remaining 28.3% of the mineral rights, including the St. Clair claims, held in private ownership.

The case here arises because during 1969 defendant St. Clair, through various employees and agents, entered BWCA with the Federal defendants' permission and undertook surface mineral exploration, establishing a base camp and other more temporary encampments. Travel was by canoe. In December, 1969, St. Clair gave notice that core drilling was planned, which would involve the use of mechanical equipment, access overland and permanent camps. The Federal officials in charge besides permitting the original entry authorized the establishment of the original base camp for a period longer than normally permitted by applicable regulations. Exploratory mining operations generally are not uses contemplated or permitted by the BWCA regulations (the substantial argument being whether they are so prohibited). As to the core drilling request, the Federal defendants on receipt of it requested information concerning St. Clair's right and title to the tracts of land on which he intended to drill. Prior to being furnished such, the present lawsuit was commenced. No action has been taken on the application by either of the Federal defendants nor has any administrative determination been made.

After the commencement of this lawsuit, St. Clair's exploration activities ceased at the request of or on order from the Forest Service. The equipment used by St. Clair originally was stored at the base camp site he had established. The original reservation and severance of the mineral rights St. Clair now seeks to exercise were effected approximately 38 years ago, principally in the year 1934, with some in 1929, one tract in 1935, and the last in 1936. St. Clair, however, did not acquire his rights as a lessee until quite recently, in 1969 for the most part. Plaintiff proceeds on various legal theories and prays a judgment in short declaring St. Clair and his agents to have no authority or right to enter BWCA for the purpose of exploring, drilling for or removing minerals and enjoining both the Federal and State defendants from permitting such.


A motion for preliminary injunction became moot when it was reported to the court that St. Clair's equipment had been stored and that no further entry would be made or exploration activity conducted pending the determination of this declaratory judgment action. This court, by order dated June 1, 1970, Izaak Walton League of America v. St. Clair, 313 F.Supp. 1312 (D.Minn.1970), denied the motion of the Federal defendants to dismiss on the grounds that the complaint fails to state a cause of action, that the United States had not consented to suit against it and that plaintiff lacks standing. Subsequently the Federal defendants filed an answer requesting dismissal and taking the view that what they permitted as to St. Clair or might so do in the future either as to him or others is properly an administrative matter and not within the purview of the court's jurisdiction in an action such as this. Meantime, the State defendants answered, stating in part "Defendant Commissioner of Conservation agrees generally with the nature of the claim . . . subject however to specific denials, affirmations and additional allegations . . .", but contending that the land in the BWCA should be subject to mining activity only as "related to a national emergency". The State defendants have cross-claimed against the Federal defendants in support of the plaintiff's request for permanent injunction. Defendant St. Clair has answered in general denying the allegations of the complaint and the cross-complaint as have his lessors who were joined as additional defendants by order of this court of April 19, 1971, which order also denied various dismissal motions. Subsequently the State defendants moved to amend their answer and cross-claim to assert that the lands in which St. Clair claims mineral rights were, prior to the year 1900, separated fraudulently from the public domain under the then applicable federal homesteading law and therefore no private titles thereto can or do exist and title remains in the United States. Exhibits and briefs presented would indicate some substance to the claim, had it been timely presented years ago. The court denied leave so to amend, however, on May 15, 1972 Izaak Walton League v. St. Clair, 55 F.R.D. 139 (D.Minn.1972), holding as a matter of law that even if established, such facts at this late date would not constitute a defense in view of the statute of limitations. Subsequently at the court's instance, argument was held for a full day at Duluth, Minnesota on September 15, 1972. The legal questions are now ripe for decision.


The statutory and administrative history behind the BWCA is rather lengthy. March 3, 1891 Congress directed that "The President of the United States may, from time to time, set apart and reserve, in any State . . . having public land bearing forests . . . any part of the public lands . . . as national forests . . . by public proclamation." 16 U.S.C. § 471. By Congressional Act of June 4, 1897, 16 U.S.C. § 473 et seq., detailed provisions were made for administration and regulation of national forests, including sale and use of timber, egress or ingress of actual settlers and tourists and other matters. Jurisdiction as of today is in the hands of the United States Forest Service, a division of the Department of Agriculture,...

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6 cases
  • Reserve Min. Co. v. Herbst
    • United States
    • Minnesota Supreme Court
    • 27 Mayo 1977
    ...and policies for which national forests are created and maintained. What Judge Philip Neville said in Izaak Walton League of America v. St. Clair, 353 F.Supp. 698, 714 (D.Minn.1973), where he was construing the Wilderness Act as it applies to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, articulates a ph......
  • National Ass'n of Property Owners v. US, Civ. No. 5-79-95
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Minnesota
    • 24 Julio 1980
    ...to achieve these goals; it may create and regulate Wilderness areas for recreational purposes for the public. Izaak Walton League v. St. Clair, 353 F.Supp. 698, 710 (D.Minn.1973), rev'd on other grounds, 497 F.2d 849 (8th Cir. 1974); Parker v. United States, 309 F.Supp. 593, 597-98 (D.Colo.......
  • Minnesota Public Interest Research Group v. Butz, 4-72 Civ. 598.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Minnesota
    • 16 Abril 1973
    ...act to halt such logging pursuant to the specific terms of the Wilderness Act. In a similar analysis in Izaak Walton League v. St. Clair, et al., 353 F.Supp. 698 (D.C.Minn., 1973), Judge Neville enjoined all further mineral exploration in the BWCA despite 16 U.S.C. § 1133(d)(2), a special p......
  • Izaak Walton League of America v. St. Clair
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • 17 Mayo 1974
    ...Honorable Philip Neville, now deceased, United States District Judge for the District of Minnesota. His opinion is reported at 353 F.Supp. 698 (D.Minn.1973). 5 Izaak Walton League v. St. Clair, 55 F.R. D. 139 6 43 U.S.C. § 1166, which provides: Suits by the United States to vacate and annul......
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2 books & journal articles

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