Ohio Forestry Association v. Sierra Club

Decision Date18 May 1998
Docket Number9716
Citation523 U.S. 726,140 L.Ed.2d 921,118 S.Ct. 1665
PartiesOHIO FORESTRY ASSOCIATION, INC., Petitioner, v. SIERRA CLUB et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus*

Pursuant to the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA), the United States Forest Service developed a Land and Resource Management Plan (Plan) for Ohio's Wayne National Forest. Although the Plan makes logging in the forest more likely-it sets logging goals, selects the areas suited to timber production, and determines which probable methods of timber harvest are appropriate-it does not itself authorize the cutting of any trees. Before the Service can permit logging, the NFMA and applicable regulations require it to: (a) propose a particular site and specific harvesting method, (b) ensure that the project is consistent with the Plan, (c) provide affected parties with notice and an opportunity to be heard, (d) conduct an environmental analysis of the project, and (e) make a final decision to permit logging, which affected persons may challenge in administrative and court appeals. Furthermore, the Service must revise the Plan as appropriate. When the Plan was first proposed, the Sierra Club and another environmental organization (collectively Sierra Club) pursued various administrative remedies to bring about the Plan's modification, and then brought this suit challenging the Plan's lawfulness on the ground that it permits too much logging and too much clearcutting. The District Court granted the Forest Service summary judgment, but the Sixth Circuit reversed. The latter court found the dispute justiciable because, inter alia, it was "ripe for review'' and held that the Plan violated the NFMA.

Held: This dispute is not justiciable, because it is not ripe for court review. Pp. ____-____.

(a) In deciding whether an agency decision is ripe, this Court has examined the fitness of the particular issues for judicial decision and the hardship to the parties of withholding review. Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 149, 87 S.Ct. 1507, 1515-1516, 18 L.Ed.2d 681. Such an examination in this case reveals that the relevant factors, taken together, foreclose court review. First, withholding review will not cause the plaintiffs significant "hardship.'' Ibid. The challenged Plan provisions do not create adverse effects of a strictly legal kind; for example, they do not establish a legal right to cut trees or abolish any legal authority to object to trees being cut. Cf. United States v. Los Angeles & Salt Lake R. Co., 273 U.S. 299, 309-310, 47 S.Ct. 413, 414-415, 71 L.Ed. 651. Nor would delaying review cause the Sierra Club significant practical harm. Given the procedural requirements the Service must observe before it can permit logging, the Sierra Club need not bring its challenge now, but may await a later time when harm is more imminent and certain. Cf. Abbott Laboratories, 387 U.S., at 152-154, 87 S.Ct., at 1517-1519. Nor has the Club pointed to any other way in which the Plan could now force it to modify its behavior to avoid future adverse consequences, as, for example, agency regulations can sometimes force immediate compliance through fear of future sanctions. Cf., e.g., id., at 152-153, 87 S.Ct., at 1517-1518. Second, court review now could interfere with the system that Congress specified for the Forest Service to reach logging decisions. From that agency's perspective, immediate review could hinder its efforts to refine its policies through revision of the Plan or application of the Plan in practice. Cf., e.g., id., at 149, 87 S.Ct., at 1515-1516. Here, the possibility that further consideration will actually occur before the Plan is implemented is real, not theoretical. Third, the courts would benefit from further factual development of the issues. See Duke Power Co. v. Carolina Environmental Study Group, Inc., 438 U.S. 59, 82, 98 S.Ct. 2620, 2635, 57 L.Ed.2d 595. Review now would require time-consuming consideration of the details of an elaborate, technically based Plan, which predicts consequences that may affect many different parcels of land in a variety of ways, and which effects themselves may change over time. That review would have to take place without benefit of the focus that particular logging proposals could provide. And, depending upon the agency's future actions to revise the Plan or modify the expected implementation methods, review now may turn out to have been unnecessary. See FTC v. Standard Oil Co. of Cal., 449 U.S. 232, 242, 101 S.Ct. 488, 494, 66 L.Ed.2d 416. Finally, Congress has not specifically provided for preimplementation judicial review of such plans, unlike certain agency rules, cf., e.g., Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 891, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 3190, 111 L.Ed.2d 695, and forest plans are unlike environmental impact statements prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 because claims involving such statements can never get any riper. Pp. ____-____.

(b) The Court cannot consider the Sierra Club's argument that the Plan will hurt it immediately in many ways not yet mentioned. That argument makes its first appearance in this Court in the briefs on the merits and is, therefore, not fairly presented. Pp. ____-____.

105 F.3d 248, vacated and remanded.

BREYER, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Malcolm Stewart, Washington, DC, for federal respondents.

Steven P. Quarles, Washington, DC, for petitioner.

Frederick M. Gittes, Columbus, OH, for private respondents.

Justice BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Sierra Club challenges the lawfulness of a federal land and resource management plan adopted by the United States Forest Service for Ohio's Wayne National Forest on the ground that the plan permits too much logging and too much clearcutting. We conclude that the controversy is not yet ripe for judicial review.

I

The National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA) requires the Secretary of Agriculture to "develop, maintain, and, as appropriate, revise land and resource management plans for units of the National Forest System.'' 90 Stat. 2949, as renumbered and amended, 16 U.S.C. §1604(a). The System itself is vast. It includes 155 national forests, 20 national grasslands, 8 land utilization projects, and other lands that together occupy nearly 300,000 square miles of land located in 44 States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. §1609(a); 36 CFR §200.1(c)(2) (1997); Office of the Federal Register, United States Government Manual 135 (1997/1998). The National Forest Service, which manages the System, develops land and resource management plans pursuant to NFMA, and uses these forest plans to "guide all natural resource management activities,'' 36 CFR §219.1(b) (1997), including use of the land for "outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish, and wilderness.'' 16 U.S.C. §1604(e)(1). In developing the plans, the Service must take both environmental and commercial goals into account. See, e.g., §1604(g); 36 CFR §219.1(a) (1997).

This case focuses upon a plan that the Forest Service has developed for the Wayne National Forest located in southern Ohio. When the Service wrote the plan, the forest consisted of 178,000 federally owned acres (278 sq. mi.) in three forest units that are interspersed among privately owned lands, some of which the Forest Service plans to acquire over time. See Land and Resource Management Plan, Wayne National Forest, United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Eastern Region (1987) 1-3, 3-1, A-13 to A-17 (hereinafter Plan). The Plan permits logging to take place on 126,000 (197 sq. mi.) of the federally owned acres. Id., at 4-7, 4-180. At the same time, it sets a ceiling on the total amount of wood that can be cut-a ceiling that amounts to about 75 million board feet over 10 years, and which, the Plan projects, would lead to logging on about 8,000 acres (12.5 sq. mi.) during that decade. Id., at 4-180. According to the Plan, logging on about 5,000 (7.8 sq. mi.) of those 8,000 acres would involve clearcutting, or other forms of what the Forest Service calls "even-aged'' tree harvesting. Id., at 3-5, 4-180.

Although the Plan sets logging goals, selects the areas of the forest that are suited to timber production, 16 U.S.C. §1604(k), and determines which "probable methods of timber harvest,'' are appropriate, §1604(f)(2), it does not itself authorize the cutting of any trees. Before the Forest Service can permit the logging, it must: (a) propose a specific area in which logging will take place and the harvesting methods to be used, Plan 4-20 to 4-25; 53 Fed.Reg. 26835-26836 (1988); (b) ensure that the project is consistent with the Plan, 16 U.S.C. §1604(i); 36 CFR §219.10(e) (1997); (c) provide those affected by proposed logging notice and an opportunity to be heard, 106 Stat. 1419 (note following 16 U.S.C. §1612); 36 CFR pt. 215, §217.1(b) (1997); Plan 5-2; (d) conduct an environmental analysis pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §4332 et seq.; Plan 4-14, to evaluate the effects of the specific project and to contemplate alternatives, 40 CFR §§1502.14, 1508.9(b) (1997), Plan 1-2; and (e) subsequently take a final decision to permit logging, which decision affected persons may challenge in an administrative appeals process and in court, see 106 Stat. 1419-1420 (note following 16 U.S.C. §1612); 5 U.S.C. §701 et seq. See also 53 Fed.Reg. 26834-26835 (1988); 58 Fed.Reg. 19370-19371 (1993). Furthermore, the statute requires the Forest Service to "revise'' the Plan "as appropriate'' 16 U.S.C. §1604(a). Despite the considerable legal distance between the adoption of the Plan and the moment when a tree is cut, the Plan's promulgation nonetheless makes logging more likely in that it is a logging precondition; in its absence logging could not take place. See ibid. (requiring promulgation of forest plans); §1604...

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