Grazing and timber groups have lost their challenge against high-level federal regulations that govern activities across all national forests.
In 2012, the U.S. Forest Service established a new “planning rule” that lays out national forest management principles, replacing a previous policy established 30 years earlier.
The planning rule is used to develop management plans for individual forests, which in turn determine allowable grazing and logging levels.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the American Forest Resource Council and other industry groups filed a lawsuit claiming the 2012 planning rule doesn’t comply with existing national forest laws.
The new rule prioritizes environmental concerns over grazing and timber production, effectively overriding the will of Congress when it passed three statutes: the National Forest Management Act, the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act and the Organic Administration Act, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs argue that the 2012 planning rule establishes “ecological sustainability” as the top forest purpose and “ecosystem services” as a new type of forest use without any basis in existing laws.
The Forest Service and several environmental groups that intervened in the case claimed that it was within the federal agency’s authority to create the new policy.
Environmental groups successfully used litigation to stop previous planning rule changes from going into effect in 2000, 2005 and 2008, but now alleged that the timber and grazing plaintiffs lacked legal standing to oppose the 2012 revisions.
U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has agreed with the environmentalists and thrown out the lawsuit because the plaintiffs failed to show they’d be directly injured by the 2012 planning rule.
The plaintiffs argued they’d suffer economic harm because the rule would eventually reduce logging and grazing on national forests, with overstocked trees also increasing the risk of wildfire.
To support their allegations, the groups pointed to language in the rule that said grazing must be modified in areas where it’s identified as a “stressor.”
The rule also stated that current trends in the national forest timber program will continue, which the plaintiffs interpreted as further logging declines.
However, the judge said the plaintiffs did not demonstrate these alleged harms were an “imminent” effect of the 2012 planning rule, as the new policy doesn’t direct on-the-ground activities.
Jackson said the allegations of reduced logging and grazing are “sheer speculation,” since there are still several “intervening decision points” between the planning rule and site-specific projects.