National Wildlife Federation v. Burford

Citation835 F.2d 305,266 U.S.App.D.C. 241
Decision Date15 December 1987
Docket NumberNo. 86-5239,86-5240,86-5239
Parties, 18 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,328 NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION v. Robert F. BURFORD, et al., Appellants, Mountain States Legal Foundation, et al. (Two Cases).
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)

Page 305

835 F.2d 305
266 U.S.App.D.C. 241, 18 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,328

Robert F. BURFORD, et al., Appellants,
Mountain States Legal Foundation, et al. (Two Cases).
No. 86-5239, 86-5240.
United States Court of Appeals,
District of Columbia Circuit.
Argued April 27, 1987.
Decided Dec. 11, 1987
As Amended Dec. 15, 1987.

Page 306

Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (Civil Action No. 85-02238).

Jacques B. Gelin, Atty., Dept. of Justice, with whom Robert L. Klarquist and David A. Kubichek, Attys., Dept. of Justice, and Gary L. Bohlke, Atty., Dept. of the Interior, Washington, D.C., were on the brief for federal appellants in No. 86-5239 and cross-appellee in No. 86-5240.

Constance E. Brooks, Washington, D.C., with whom Casey Shpall, Denver, Colo., was on the brief for Mountain States Legal Foundation, et al., appellants in No. 86-5240 and cross-appellee in No. 86-5239.

Eldon V.C. Greenberg, with whom Norman L. Dean, Jr., and Kathleen C. Zimmerman, Washington, D.C., were on the brief for National Wildlife Federation, appellee in Nos. 86-5239 and 86-5240.

Before MIKVA and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges, and WEIGEL, * Senior District Judge.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge MIKVA.

Opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part filed by Circuit Judge WILLIAMS.

MIKVA, Circuit Judge:

The National Wildlife Federation (the Federation), a private organization dedicated

Page 307

to conserving the nation's natural resources, brought suit against the Director of the Bureau of Land Management, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Department of the Interior (collectively, the Department), challenging the Department's conduct of its "Land Withdrawal Review Program" (the Program). Pursuant to the Program, the Department lifted protective restrictions pertaining to almost 180 million acres of federal land located in seventeen states. This land is subject to the requirements of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, 43 U.S.C. Secs. 1701 et seq. (1982) (FLPMA or the Act), which establishes comprehensive rules for the management and preservation of federal lands and provides for protection of land in the public domain from private ownership and development.

The Federation alleged, inter alia, that in lifting protective restrictions under the Program, the Department improperly ignored statutory provisions which subject release of land from the public reserve to careful procedural protections. The district court issued a preliminary injunction, enjoining the Department from modifying, terminating, or revoking any restriction in effect on January 1, 1981, and enjoining the agency from taking any action inconsistent with such restrictions. Appellants, the Department and Mountain States Legal Foundation (Mountain States), a nonprofit group which represents public land user groups, contest the injunction on several grounds. They principally contend that the Federation lacks standing to challenge the Department's actions, that the injunction impermissibly restricts the rights of absent third parties, and that the Federation is not entitled to the injunction under traditional equity principles. We reject each of appellants' arguments and affirm the district court's issuance of the preliminary injunction.


A. The Applicable Law

This action concerns the Department's authority to establish and implement land use planning for millions of acres of federal public lands. This authority precedes the enactment of FLPMA. Up until the mid-20th century, management of the nation's public lands consisted basically of a policy of disposal. Under this policy, the government transferred vast acreages of land from federal ownership to private citizens, states, counties, cities, and companies, for purposes such as homesteading and railroad construction. Beginning in the 1930's, however, the federal government began reorienting its policy away from disposal and toward retention and management. The two relevant mechanisms for implementation of this new policy were classifications and withdrawals. "Classifications" designate public lands for retention and frequently segregate the lands from the operation of various land disposal laws. "Withdrawals" directly remove designated lands from disposal under the general land laws.

Classifications for federal lands were made, for the most part, pursuant to the Classification and Multiple Use Act of 1964 (the C & MU Act), 43 U.S.C. Secs. 1411-15, now expired. The C & MU Act directed the Secretary of the Interior to develop criteria to be used in determining which of the public lands administered by the Department should be retained in federal ownership and which lands were suitable for disposal. Most classifications for retention segregated lands from sale and from disposal under the agricultural laws (e.g., homestead, desert land entry, and Indian allotment laws). Some classifications further segregated land from exchange, from location under federal mining laws, or from mineral leasing. Many of the lands were classified for multiple use management. Over the years, pursuant to the C & MU Act, the Department classified almost 180 million acres of publicly managed lands for retention by the federal government.

The first withdrawals were placed on public lands by President Franklin Roosevelt under the Pickett Act, which authorized the President to temporarily withdraw from settlement, location, sale or entry any of the public lands in the United States and to reserve the lands for any

Page 308

public purpose. See 43 U.S.C. Secs. 141-143, repealed. A withdrawal withholds land from operation of one or more of the general land and mineral disposal laws, including the 1872 Mining Law, as amended, 30 U.S.C. Secs. 22, et seq., the Mineral Leasing Act, 30 U.S.C. Secs. 181-226-2, and the Geothermal Steam Act, 30 U.S.C. Secs. 1001-1025. The purpose of withdrawals is to limit activities under those laws and to preserve other public values, such as recreation and fish and wildlife. At the time this suit was filed, about 68 million acres of land had been withdrawn pursuant to constitutional and statutory authority.

The creation, modification, and revocation of classifications and withdrawals is now controlled by FLPMA. Enacted in 1976, FLPMA provides the Bureau of Land Management (BLM or the Bureau), the subagency of the Department charged with land management responsibilities, with permanent, comprehensive guidelines for carrying out its mandate. The Act requires land use planning for public lands under BLM's jurisdiction and outlines procedures for the development, maintenance, and revision of land use plans. See 43 U.S.C. Secs. 1701(a)(2), 1712.

The Act also establishes management criteria. FLPMA states that the federal policy under the Act is that "public lands be retained in Federal ownership, unless as a result of the land use planning procedure provided for in this Act, it is determined that disposal of a particular parcel will serve the national interest." Id. Sec. 1701(a)(1). The Act stipulates additional policy guidelines for BLM's land use planning. First, Congress directed that "management be on the basis of multiple use and sustained yield unless otherwise specified by law." Id. Sec. 1701(a)(7). Second,

the public lands [must] 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. 1701(a)(8). Finally, the Act directs BLM to manage the lands in a manner which recognizes the country's need for natural resources. Id. Sec. 1701(a)(12).

FLPMA contains specific provisions governing the disposition of classifications and withdrawals in effect when Congress enacted FLPMA. The savings provision of the Act states that "[a]ll withdrawals, reservations, classifications, and designations in effect as of the date of the approval of this Act shall remain in full force and effect until modified under the provisions of this Act or other applicable law." Pub.L. No. 94-579, 90 Stat. 2743. The Act directs BLM to review all existing classifications and to review the existing withdrawals regarding public lands in the eleven contiguous Western states by 1991. See 43 U.S.C. Secs. 1701(a)(3), 1714(l ). Section 202 of the Act requires BLM, subject to this review, to develop land use plans for all public lands "regardless of whether such lands previously have been classified, withdrawn, set aside, or otherwise designated for one or more uses." Id. Sec. 1712(a). FLPMA further provides that the Department may modify or terminate any existing classification in a manner consistent with the land use plan developed under FLPMA. See id. Sec. 1712(d). Similarly, the Act authorizes the Department to revoke withdrawals, but only in accordance with the Act. See id. Sec. 1714(a).

The Department has implemented FLPMA's comprehensive land use planning requirements by regulations. These Departmental regulations specifically define the land use plans required by FLMPA as Resource Management Plans (Plans). See 43 C.F.R. Sec. 1601.0-5(k) (1986).

B. Implementation of the Land Withdrawal Review Program

Until 1981, the agency took little action to review existing classifications and withdrawals. In 1981, however, the Department proceeded to review of classifications

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and withdrawals with full force. Although classifications and withdrawals are technically subject to the review provisions of different sections of FLPMA, BLM determined that classifications would be systematically reviewed as part of the Bureau's Land Withdrawal Review Program. See BLM...

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