Federal Forest Rules Avert Industry Challenge

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Timber and recreation groups failed to sway a federal judge that the U.S. Forest Service gives preferential treatment to environmentalists.
     Thirteen trade and recreation groups, including the Federal Forest Resource Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, brought the lawsuit at issue in 2012, complaining that the Forest Service’s latest Planning Rule put ecological sustainability and ecosystem services ahead of industry uses like logging, grazing and recreation.
     These plaintiffs sought summary judgment, but the Forest Service and Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack argued that the groups lacked standing to challenge the 2012 Planning Rule.
     Four environmental groups intervened alongside the government, adding their own motion for summary judgment based on the argument that the Forest Service did not exceed its authority.
     U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson sided with the government and granted its motion to dismiss on Tuesday, citing the lack of evidence that the 2012 Planning Rule has injured or imminently will injure the plaintiff-groups.
     In their complaint, the groups had argued that the Forest Service’s increased environmental regulations will decrease the amount of timber available for commercial use and keep the forests more crowded than they should be, thereby leading to more forest fires, which harms everyone.
     Jackson saw no evidence, however, that the 2012 Planning Rule will cause a harmful reduction in timber and land availability, or that any hypothetical reduction would harm the plaintiffs’ members.
     The plaintiffs’ claim that the Planning Rule will result in a reduction in land use that will injure them economically is “sheer speculation,” the 43-page opinion states.
     With no showing of injury, Jackson dismissed the case for lack of standing.
     The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in supervision of the Forest Service, was first authorized to manage national forest lands under the Organic Administration Act of 1897.
     The OAA declares that national forests exist for two purposes: “to improve and protect the forest within the boundaries, or for the purpose of securing favorable conditions of water flows,” and “to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use and necessities of citizens of the United States.”
     Both the Multiple Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 and the National Forest Management Act in 1976 amended that statute to emphasize the principles of multiple use and sustained yield of products in the national forests.
     Planning rules, of which there have been five since 1979, govern the Forest Service’s development of individual land- and resource-management plans for the national forests and grasslands.
     Each rule has caused its share of controversy, and some of them have been invalidated by federal courts. Environmental and industry groups always dispute what should be included or emphasized in each planning rule.
     In their 2012 complaint, the logging and recreation groups had complained that the latest planning rule created “an entirely new category of national forest uses” that previous statutes never established.
     The complaint also took issue with the Forest Service for purporting to have relied on “the best available scientific information,” saying that requirement diverges from the NFMA’s directive to consider a combination of physical, biological, economic and other sciences.
     The Planning Rule’s provisions limiting timber harvest, its adjustment of the phrase “outdoor recreation” to “sustainable recreation,” and its failure to include the definitions of ecological integrity, riparian zone, and riparian management area in its original draft rounded out the 12-count complaint.

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