Soda Mountain Wilderness Council v. Norton

Decision Date24 March 2006
Docket NumberNo. CIVS042583LKKCMK.,CIVS042583LKKCMK.
Citation424 F.Supp.2d 1241
PartiesSODA MOUNTAIN WILDERNESS COUNCIL and Klamath Forest Alliance, Plaintiffs, v. Gail NORTON, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of California

Sharon Eileen Duggan, Law Office of Sharon E. Duggan, Oakland, CA, William H. Sherlock, Hutchinson, Cox, Coons, Dupriest, Orr and Sherlock PC, Eugene, OR, for Plaintiffs.

Ernest Robert Wright, U.S. Attorney Office, Sacramento, CA, for Defendants.

ORDER

KARLTON, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiffs, the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council (SMWC) and the Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA), have brought suit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) (and its relevant officials and parent agency). They allege that the agency has violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). The suit arises out of a proposed amendment to the land management plan for the Redding Resource Area concerning acquisitions of land for the Horshoe Ranch Wildlife Area (HRWA). The parties have both filed cross-motions for summary judgment and submitted an additional round of briefing at the court's request on the question of standing.

I. FACTS
A. THE HORSESHOE RANCH WILD-LIFE AREA

In 1977 the California Department of Fish and Game (CDF & G) bought the B.B. Miller cattle ranch to protect the principle wintering grounds of the Jenny Creek black-tail deer herd. Excerpt of Record (ER) 013; Administrative Record (AR) 00112. This action established the Horseshoe Ranch Wildlife Area as a public deer habitat preserve. It is located just south of the California-Oregon border, east of Interstate 5 and north of the Klamath River. Id. Miller's land was checkerboarded alongside one-mile square sections of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Id.; Map at ER 030; AR 00136. Since then, BLM and the CDF & G have co-managed the checkerboarded ranch as a Wildlife Area. CDF & G has taken the leadership role in wildlife management pursuant to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies. ER 013; AR 00112, 05288-05319. CDF & G has managed primarily to enhance and protect deer winter range habitat, and provide public access for hunting and other recreational pursuits. Id.

At the time of the original purchase, only the lands outlined on Map 3 of the Final EA were fenced as a part of the B.B. Miller Ranch. ER 013, AR 00112; Map at ER 030, AR 00136. Sections 22 and 34, located on the western boundary of the fence, were already in BLM ownership but were used for grazing by other ranchers. ER 013, AR 00112. In 1983 the CDF & G and BLM completed a Habitat Management Plan that included Sections 22 and 34 as part of the HRWA. Id. Although outside the fenced boundaries, the CDF & G has administered the HRWA with sections 22 and 34 considered part of the wildlife area. Id.

In 1992, the eastern half of section 21, T. 48N., R.6W., contiguous with section 22, was acquired by a land exchange consistent with the existing Management Framework Plan, with the intention of including it in the HRWA. Id. The final configuration of land being actively managed as a wildlife area by the CDF & G in 1992 was the original ranch plus one half of Sections 211 and all of Sections 22, and 34. Id.

B. THE 1993 REDDING RESOURCE AREA MANAGEMENT PLAN

In June 1993, the Redding Resource Area BLM, issued a Record of Decision (1993 ROD) for the Redding Resource Management Plan (RRMP). ER 070. The new Redding Resource Management Plan (1993 RRMP), declared itself a "compact with the public" resulting from a "four year process of collaboration with the public, State agencies, other Federal agencies, and, especially county governments and local organizations." ER 070. One goal of the plan was to "dramatically shift" the BLM land ownership pattern "from more than 1,000 scattered parcels to less than twenty five large aggregates of accessible and useful public lands" with "outstanding recreational opportunities and unusual or imperiled biological resources." Id. One of the specific objectives of the 1993 RRMP was to "double the size" of the HRWA "to benefit deer." ER 071. This would be accomplished by disposing of the widely scattered, and thus hard to manage public lands, in favor of concentrating management on a few consolidated areas with unique resource values. AR 00112, CD# 1. "Expansion of public land administration westward would complement public management ... [i]n Oregon, enhance public accessibility, and provide more effective long term protection of the interstate deer herd." ER 080.

The 1993 RRMP listed as objectives for Horseshoe Ranch:

1. Improve the existing public administered deer winter ranch habitat and afford long-term protection for additional privately owned deer winter range habitat in cooperation with California Department of Fish and Game, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Ashland Resource Area BLM;

2. Allow long-term natural restoration of riparian zones to Class II or better;

3. Offer semi-primitive non-motorized recreation opportunities;

ER 076.

The 1993 RRMP identified a new boundary for Horseshoe Ranch and identified it as an area that would be a focus for long term management. AR 00118. The new boundary included public land, as well as approximately 7,000 acres of privately held land to the west of Horseshoe Ranch. AR 00112.

It was intended that BLM would consider acquisition of land made available by willing sellers within the 1993 RRMP Horseshoe Ranch boundary, and once purchased, to manage the land consistent with the RRMP management objectives and land use allocations for Horseshoe Ranch. AR 00112, 00119, 00127; ER 077. Under the 1993 RRMP, if land was purchased within the Horseshoe Ranch boundary, no further RRMP amendment would be needed to manage the land as part of Horseshoe Ranch. AR 00112.

The redrawing of the Horseshoe Ranch boundary in 1993 did not expand the amount of public land in Horseshoe Ranch or the amount of land that was being actively managed as part of Horseshoe Ranch. AR 00120. Despite the boundary shown in the RRMP, the BLM administrative boundary remained the boundary shown in the 1983 Habitat Management Plan. AR 00120.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the RRMP measured impacts to deer populations primarily in terms of the number of acres placed into or removed from public stewardship. ER 082-83.

C. AMENDMENTS TO THE 1993 RRMP

Within a year of the 1993 ROD, the RRMP was amended by the Northwest Forest Plan. ER 124. Although the Northwest Forest Plan dealt primarily with spotted owl habitat, it recognized the Soda Mountain area, which includes the HRWA.2 It said:

This decision recognizes the special biological qualities of this unique area and directs the BLM to evaluate carefully the values of the Soda Mountain area as a biological connectivity corridor and propose any additional management protection necessary, including a special designation, through the BLM resource management plan, to protect those values.

ER 126.

D. THE CASCADE SISKIYOU ECOLOGICAL EMPHASIS AREA AND NATIONAL MONUMENT

The Northwest Forest Plan also established the Cascade Siskiyou Ecological Emphasis Area (CSEEA), primarily because of its "unique diverse ecological and biological characteristics." ER 098. The majority of the CSEEA was in Oregon, and the Medford BLM was given the primary responsibility for producing a management plan. Id.; ER 107, CSEEA Alternative A Map 39. One of the major decisions for the planning process was establishment of the boundary. ER 101. Four of the five alternative boundaries included some portion of the Horseshoe Ranch within the CSEEA boundary. ER 106-16. Three of the five alternatives included the area currently in question as an active acquisition interest area. Id.

Planning for the CSEEA was cut short by the declaration of the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument.3 The public comment period for the CSEEA's draft EIS was scheduled to end on June 14, 2000, ER 097, but the new monument was proclaimed by the President on June 9, 2000, ER 119, Proclamation No. 7318, 65 FR 37249 (June 13, 2000). This obviated the need for any further planning for the CSEEA. ER 117, AR 05048.

Although the boundary of the Monument coincided with the state line, the Medford and Redding BLM agreed that since "ecological processes of the natural landscape are not constrained by administrative borders," they would manage all the ecologically-contiguous areas in the HRWA consistent with the "principles and policies explicit in the Presidential Proclamation." ER 178-80.

On the California side of the border, two sections of land within the acquisition interest area of the HRWA were offered for sale to the BLM in 1995. ER 014, AR 00113. During the public participation process initiated by the BLM, private landowners in the vicinity of the HRWA expressed opposition to federal acquisition of additional lands. Id. Some private landowners and neighbors expressed fears that federal acquisitions would result in a loss of county tax base and that "their traditional livestock operations and way of life on private lands were threatened with being prohibited." Id. The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors requested that the BLM amend the Redding Resource Area to reduce the boundary of the HRWA back to the original 1977 size. Id.; see also ER 127 (letter dated Aug. 10, 1999 from Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors). As a result of the concerns raised, BLM withdrew from the purchase of the parcels. AR 00113.

In February of 2000, the BLM announced that it would begin a process to consider amending the boundary of the HRWA. The first step was issuing a notice of intent to consider the proposal by Siskiyou County to amend the RRMP Horse-shoe Ranch boundary and to initiate public scoping. ER 014, AR 00113, 00437-38.

E. THE ...

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