Monday, October 24, 2011

State Of Wyoming v. USDA Forest Service

Oct 21: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, Case Nos. 08-8061 & 09-8075. Appealed from the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming. Defendants Forest Service and Defendants-Intervenors-Appellants Environmental Groups appeal the Wyoming district court's order setting aside and permanently enjoining the Roadless Area Conservation Rule (Roadless Rule), which the Forest Service promulgated in 2001. Intervening Environmental Groups include the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance; Defenders of Wildlife; National Audubon Society; Natural Resources Defense Council; Pacific Rivers Council; Sierra Club; Wilderness Society; and Wyoming Outdoor Council.
    In setting aside the Roadless Rule, the district court held that the rule violated the Wilderness Act of 1964 (Wilderness Act), and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). On appeal, the Forest Service and the Environmental Groups ask the Appeals Court to hold that the Roadless Rule was not promulgated in violation of the Wilderness Act or NEPA. The Appeals Court indicates that, "Furthermore, even if we were to conclude that the rule was promulgated in violation of federal law, they ask us to nevertheless reverse the district court's order establishing a permanent nationwide injunction."
    Plaintiff-Appellee State of Wyoming and Intervenor-Appellee Colorado Mining Association (CMA) request the Appeals Court to affirm the district court order on the grounds that the rule does in fact violate the Wilderness Act and NEPA. The Appeals Court indicates that, "In the event that we conclude that the Roadless Rule complies with the Wilderness Act and NEPA, they ask us to affirm on the alternate grounds that the rule was promulgated in violation of the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act (MUSYA), and also the National Forest Management Act (NFMA).
    In a lengthy 120-page opinion, the Appeals Court reversed the district court's order granting Plaintiff's declaratory relief and issuing a permanent injunction, and remanded the case for the district court to vacate the permanent injunction. On the NFMA issue the Appeals Court ruled, ". . .because the Roadless Rule was promulgated under the authority of the Organic Act and MUSYA, and was not otherwise governed by NFMA, the Forest Service was not required to comply with NFMA's provisions.
Wyoming's NFMA claim must therefore fail."
    Regarding the permanent injunction remedy the Appeals Court said, "The district court permanently enjoined the Roadless Rule on a nationwide basis. . . Although the district court acknowledged that the issuance of a permanent injunction 'is an extraordinary remedy,' it nevertheless found that a permanent injunction was proper. . . In order to obtain a permanent injunction, a party must prove: '(1) actual success on the merits; (2) irreparable harm unless the injunction is issued; (3) the threatened injury outweighs the harm that the injunction may cause the opposing party; and (4) the injunction, if issued, will not adversely affect the public interest.' . . We review a district court's grant of a permanent injunction for an abuse of discretion. . . examining its factual findings for clear error and its legal determinations de novo. . .  As discussed. . .  Wyoming failed to demonstrate that the Forest Service's promulgation of the Roadless Rule violated the Wilderness Act, NEPA, MUSYA, or NFMA. Thus, the district court abused its discretion in permanently enjoining the Roadless Rule on a nationwide basis because the court's action was based on the erroneous legal conclusion that Wyoming had succeeded on the merits of its claims."
    A release from the environmental groups indicates that the "long-awaited, landmark decision" secures "critical legal protections for nearly 50 million acres of pristine National Forest lands" by protecting wild national forests and grasslands from new road building, logging, and development. This decision formally ends an injunction against the Rule's enforcement imposed by a Wyoming federal district court in 2008.
    Tim Preso, an Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups said, "The  public forests we've fought so hard to protect are now safe. All Americans can now know that a key part of our nation's natural heritage won't be destroyed." The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule was the product of the most comprehensive rulemaking process in the nation's history, including more than 2 million comments from members of the public, hundreds of public hearings and open houses, and a detailed environmental review. The rule came under relentless attack by logging and resource extraction interests, certain states, and the Bush administration."
    Mike Francis with The Wilderness Society said, "This is a great victory for the American people who have spoken out, time and again and in record numbers, for protection of these wild public lands." Mary Scurlock of Pacific Rivers Council said, "Roadless areas protect our rivers and streams -- protect our salmon, trout, drinking water. The Roadless Rule is common-sense, and finally the question of its legality is settled."
    The groups said, "Now, conservation, faith, and recreation groups trust that the Obama administration will support and enforce the 2001 Roadless Rule as the law of the land, including defending its protections for all 58.5 million acres of roadless lands in the country. That includes national forests in Alaska, currently subject to a separate legal challenge and national forests in Idaho, whose roadless area protections were weakened in 2008." The groups cited candidate President Obama who said: "Road construction in national forests can harm fish and wildlife habitats while polluting local lakes, rivers, and streams. The Roadless Area Conservation Rule -- which was made on the basis of extensive citizen input -- protects 58.5 million acres of national forest from such harmful building. I will be proud to support and defend it."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). Access the release from environmental groups (click here). [#Land, #CA10]

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