Home » Case Summaries » 1995 » Forest Conservation Council v. United States Forest Service


Forest Conservation Council v. United States Forest Service



Environmental organizations sued the U.S. Forest Service for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) violations, alleging a failure to conduct a region-wide and forest-wide environmental impact statement (EIS); and for National Forest Management Act (NFMA) violations, alleging a failure to amend its forest plan for Northern Goshawk habitat. The organizations sought an injunction of any timber activity until the Forest Service complied with its statutory obligations. The State of Arizona, which is charged with managing state school trust lands adjacent to the relevant national forest lands, and ApacheCounty, attempted to intervene as of right, or, in the alternative, permissively.

Arizona alleged that it had a right to intervene based on four different injuries that any suspension of forest management activities would bring to its interests in managing its property: 1) it would increase chances of fire, pest, and disease in the national forest that could in turn affect the state lands; 2) federal funds used to maintain the state’s lands would be curtailed; 3) proceeds the state receives from the sale of timber would be curtailed; and 4) its duties and rights created under its “Joint Powers Agreement” with Department of Agriculture (DOA) and Department of Interior (DOI) would be affected, as the state is required to provide fire activities on these lands. No parties objected to the intervention. ApacheCounty alleged similar economic injuries, as well as injuries to its effort in developing its Land Use and Resource Policy Plan.

The Ninth Circuit applied a four-part test to determine if the appellants could intervene as of right. Under the court’s test the motion must be timely; the applicant must claim a significantly protectable interest relating to the property or transaction that is the subject of the action; the applicant must be so situated that the disposition of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede its ability to protect those interests; and the applicant’s interest must be inadequately represented by the parties to the action.

In determining whether the appellants’ interests were significantly protectable, the Ninth Circuit stated that any injury must relate to the subject matter of the action. Relying on this test, the district court had held that Arizona and ApacheCounty’s interests did not relate to the claims at issue, which were to compel the Forest Service to follow their own procedures. That is, the economic injuries of Arizona and ApacheCounty did not relate to the federal compliance required under NEPA and the NFMA. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that “when, as here, the injunctive relief sought by plaintiffs will have direct, immediate, and harmful effects upon a third party’s legally protectable interests, that party satisfies the `interest’ test [for an injunction]; he has significantly protectable interest that relates to the property or transaction that is the subject of the action.”

In determining whether the intervenors had legally protectable interests, the court declined to answer whether their economic injuries would be sufficient to grant them a right to intervene. Instead, the court found that the intervenors’ noneconomic interests, including injury to the environmental health of, and potential for fire in, the adjacent state lands were sufficient interests to entitle them to intervene.

The court also had to consider the third prong for a right to intervene–whether the appellants’ interest will be practically impaired unless it can intervene. The appellees argued that Arizona and ApacheCounty could sufficiently participate by commenting on the EIS, appealing the EIS if they did not like it, and by having amicus curiae status in this suit. The court found, however, that an injunction could last for many years while the Forest Service complied with its statutory obligations, and that unless the appellants were made a party to the action, they would have no means to challenge that injunction. Therefore, any injunction would impede the appellants’ ability to protect their interests, and they therefore met the third prong of the intervention test.

Finally, the court considered whether the appellants’ interests would otherwise be inadequately met. The court stated that “a presumption of adequate representation generally arises when the representative is a government body.” However, the court found that here, Arizona and ApacheCounty’s interests were more specific than the interests of the Forest Service, and therefore that presumption had been overcome. Specifically, it found that the Forest Service is concerned with the broad public interest, not with the appellants’ specific interests in their lands and economic welfare. Therefore the court concluded that the appellants were entitled to intervene as of right.

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