Home » Case Summaries » 1996 » Idaho Sporting Congress, Inc. v. United States Forest Serv.


Idaho Sporting Congress, Inc. v. United States Forest Serv.



Seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, the Idaho Sporting Congress (ISC) filed an action challenging three forest recovery projects and seven associated salvage timber sales. ICS charged the United States Forest Service (Forest Service) with violations of the Recissions Act of 1995,[1] section 705 of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA),[2] a presidential directive regarding the Recisions Act, and the public trust doctrine. The district court dismissed a number of the claims based on lack of ripeness, and granted summary judgment for the Forest Service on the remaining claims. The Ninth Circuit affirmed.

In 1994, a number of wildfires burned thousands of acres of forest in Idaho and Montana. In response, the Forest Service formed interdisciplinary scientific teams to make recommendations for remedying the ecological damage caused by the fires. These recommendations led the Forest Service to proceed with a series of forest recovery projects. The goals of each project included timber salvaging, reforestation, and improvement of water quality and fish habitat. ISC brought suit in district court challenging the Forest Service’s decisions concerning three of these forest recovery projects and the associated salvage sales.

The district court held that the Rescissions Act (Act) precluded review of the sales under the APA, and only permitted review of those salvage timber sales challenged within fifteen days of initial Forest Service advertisement. Only two of the challenged sales met these requirements. For these sales, the district court concluded that the decisions of the Forest Service were not arbitrary or capricious, and therefore did not violate the Act. The court also found that the Forest Service had not violated its obligations under the Presidential directive nor the federal public trust doctrine.

The Ninth Circuit reviewed de novo the district court’s dismissal of a number of claims and its grant of summary judgment in favor of the Forest Service. The Ninth Circuit held that the terms of the Act precluded review of the salvage timber sales under the APA. The APA allows judicial review of agency actions “for which there is no adequate remedy in the court.”[3] Because the Act provided the remedy sought by ISC, the permanent injunction of all salvage timber sales, the court held that APA review was not available.

The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that five of the seven challenged sales were not ripe for review under the Act. Section 2001(f) of the Act provides that any challenge to a sale must be made within fifteen days after the date of initial advertisement of the sale. Four of the sales had not been advertised prior to ISC’s complaint, and a fifth sale had been withdrawn. Therefore, only two sales, the Thunderbolt and Lower Elkhorn sales, were properly before the court.

ISC argued that the decisions of the Forest Service to proceed with the sales violated an interagency Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), issued as required by a Presidential directive, regarding implementation of the Act. In the MOA the parties agreed to comply with previously existing environmental laws, except where expressly prohibited by the Act. ISC argued that the directive and MOA had the force of interpretive law because of ambiguity in the Act regarding the applicability of substantive environmental laws. The Ninth Circuit relied on its decision in Inland Empire Public Lands Counsel v. Glickman[4] to dispose of this argument. In Inland Empire, the court held that the Act provides for extremely limited judicial review, review of salvage timber sales is limited to the administrative record only, the standard of review is arbitrary or capricious, and the sale is not subject to any federal environmental or natural resources laws.

ISC did not establish that the directive or MOA would provide any independent source of nonenvironmental law under which the court could review, subject to the holding of Inland Empireand the plain language of the Act, the salvage timber sales. In addition, the court found that ISC did not have standing to assert violations of the MOA. The court’s lack of authority to review salvage timber sales under any other environmental laws precluded consideration of ISC’s claim that the Forest Service breached its duty to protect the public resource trust.

The Ninth Circuit reviewed the administrative record of the Thunderbolt and Lower Elkhorn sales under the arbitrary and capricious standard. The court noted that the Act gave the Forest Service broad discretion to determine what information was to be considered in making a sale decision, and whether a decision complied with existing forest management plans and guidelines. While the record reflected disagreements in the recommendations of various consulted agencies, the court held that the Forest Service was entitled to rely on the recommendations of its own experts in making its decisions. The court found that the record sufficiently supported the decisions of the Forest Service to proceed with the Thunderbolt and Lower Elkhorn salvage timber sales.

[1]16 U.S.C. § 1611 (1994 & Supp. 1995).

[2]5 U.S.C. § 705 (1994).

[3] Id. § 704 (1994).

[4]88 F.3d 697 (9th Cir. 1996).

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