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CALIFORNIA FORESTRY ASS'N v. THOMAS

August 27, 1996

CALIFORNIA FORESTRY ASSOCIATION, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JACK WARD THOMAS et al., Defendants, NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL, Defendant-Intervenor.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KESSLER

 This case is a challenge to a decision by the U.S. Forest Service to implement Interim Guidelines as a part of a program designed to protect the spotted owl's habitat in California's Western Sierra Nevada national forests. A number of private timber companies, a trade association, and one local county allege economic and environmental injuries and bring claims under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq. (1988), and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), 16 U.S.C. § 1600 et seq. The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental protection group, has been granted permission to intervene. *fn1" This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment.

 I. Statement of Facts and Procedural History

 The California subspecies of the spotted owl makes its home in mature timber stands of mixed conifer forests in the Sierra Nevada and southern California. *fn2" Since the 1970s, the California spotted owl has been designated by the Forest Service as a "sensitive species" in National Forests throughout California. As a result, the Forest Service has taken periodic surveys and inventories of spotted owl sites since the early 1970s. *fn3"

 The owls typically nest in large, old and decaying trees, so the Forest Service has been concerned primarily with the impact of logging on the owls' habitat. In 1984, the Forest Service established a network of "spotted owl habitat areas" (SOHAs) in the national forests in the Sierra Nevada. In general, the Forest Service required that each such SOHA contain 1,000 acres of suitable spotted owl habitat, and that SOHAs be located between 6 and 12 miles apart. *fn4"

 Despite these efforts to protect the owl's habitat, the Interagency Scientific Committee ("ISC") reported in 1990 that the SOHA strategy was not protecting the spotted owl. Specifically, the ISC concluded that the SOHA strategy had a low probability of maintaining the current owl population because it resulted in relatively isolated "islands" of suitable habitat, surrounded by a "sea" of younger, unsuitable habitats.

 Therefore, in June 1991, the Forest Service formed the Interagency California Spotted Owl Steering Committee ("Steering Committee") to develop an alternative strategy for managing the owls' habitat. The Steering Committee included several State of California and Federal organizations, and observers who represented various environmental and timber industry groups. The Steering Committee formed two investigative teams: (1) the California Spotted Owl Technical Assessment Team ("Technical Team") and the Policy Implementation Planning Team ("PIP Team"). The Technical Team was formed to generate a biological report on the owl ("CASPO Report"), while the PIP Team was formed to evaluate the methods for implementing the directions of the Technical Team. The Forest Service also initiated a "Cumulative Effects Analysis" ("CEA"), designed to evaluate what the potential effects of logging in owl habitats would be while the Technical Team was completing its assessment and report for the Forest Service. AR at 21.

 On May 8, 1992, the Steering Committee's Technical Team issued the CASPO report. The Team agreed with the ISC that the existing SOHA management was "not a workable strategy to assure long-term maintenance of spotted owls." AR at 21. The Team found that the California spotted owl selectively used large trees for nesting, and that the "key elements of spotted owl nest and roost stands, under current LMPs [Land Management Plans], will decline sharply over most of the Sierra Nevada in the next few decades." AR at 17. The CASPO report recommended that the Forest Service adopt an interim management plan to preserve future "management options" for Sierra Nevada owls. Specifically, the CASPO team said that the Forest Service should preserve older forest elements that the owls appeared to need for nesting and roosting, and reduce the build-up of surface and ladder fuels that increased the risk of fire. Most significantly for this case, the CASPO team recommended that the Forest Service adopt a no-logging policy within "protected activity centers" surrounding spotted owl nest sites and protect all live trees greater than 30 inches in diameter. See AR at 26-28. This interim management plan developed into the Interim Guidelines being challenged in this case.

 In June, 1992, on the heels of the CASPO Report, the Pacific Southwest Region of the Forest Service announced that it intended to amend its Regional Guide and forest plans for the ten affected forests within the region by adopting the Interim Guidelines. *fn5" According to the Forest Service, the CASPO report "clarified the need to reexamine current management and develop interim direction" for protecting the owl and its habitat pending completion of the Steering Committee's work. 57 Fed. Reg. 27019. The Forest Service published a notice in the Federal Register soliciting comments from the public on the Interim Guidelines set forth in the CASPO Report. During the six month notice and comment period, the Forest Service received over 400 comments from the public on the proposed Guidelines.

 Six months later, in January, 1993, the Forest Service released an Environmental Assessment ("EA") of the Interim Guidelines and adopted the Guidelines effective March 1, 1993. *fn6" Their stated purpose was "to bridge the time gap between the current obsolete strategy and the longer-term strategy" for managing the owl. AR 707. Shortly thereafter, the Plaintiffs appealed the Decision Notice. Their appeal was rejected on October 27, 1993.

 II. Standing

 Defendants contend that Plaintiffs lack standing under Article III of the Constitution and under the prudential "zone of interests" test established by the Supreme Court in Association of Data Processing Service Organizations Inc. v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150, 153, 25 L. Ed. 2d 184, 90 S. Ct. 827 (1970). The party seeking to invoke federal court jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing standing. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561, 119 L. Ed. 2d 351, 112 S. Ct. 2130 (1992) ("Defenders ").

 A. Constitutional Standing

 To demonstrate standing under Article III, a party must meet three requirements. First, the party must demonstrate that it has suffered an injury in fact--an "invasion of a legally-protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, . . . and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical." Defenders, 504 U.S. at 560 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Second, there must be a "causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of." Id. Finally, it must be "likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision." Id. at 561 (citations omitted).

 Defendants contend first that Plaintiffs cannot show an "actual, concrete, and particularized injury." Fed. Br. at 11. Specifically, Defendants argue that because the Interim Guidelines affect only the general vicinity (i.e., the National Forests of the Pacific Southwest Region) in which the Plaintiffs harvest timber, they have suffered insufficient injury to demonstrate standing under Article III. Further, Defendants assert that even if Plaintiffs could demonstrate injury, they would not have standing under Article III because they cannot demonstrate a "causal connection" between the injury and the conduct complained of. Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that a favorable decision by this Court would redress the harm they suffer because their potential economic injury is "purely conjectural." Fed. Br. at 13.

 Plaintiffs respond that the Guidelines cause them economic, environmental and procedural injury, and that there is a causal connection between their injuries and the government's conduct. *fn7" Specifically, Plaintiffs assert that the Interim Guidelines reduce timber volumes that are available for sale by the Forest Service and harvest by Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs allege that this will ultimately drive up the price of timber, which will damage their economic well-being, as well as the quality-of-life of lumber-dependent communities. Moreover, Plaintiffs assert that the Guidelines are environmentally unsound because they will increase the risk of disease and wildfire in the affected areas. Plaintiffs argue that a favorable ruling by this Court will redress their injuries because striking down the Guidelines will reduce restrictions on timber harvesting, do less damage to the environment, and force the agency to comply with the procedural commands of NFMA and NEPA, the statutes which the agency allegedly violated.

 Plaintiffs' future economic injury satisfies the injury infact requirement. "Government acts constricting a firm's supply of its main raw material clearly inflict the constitutionally necessary injury." Mountain States Legal Foundation et al. v. Glickman, 92 F.3d 1228, 1996 U.S. App. LEXIS 21741, *9 ...


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