Ohio Forestry Association, Inc. v. Sierra Club

PETITIONER: Ohio Forestry Association, Inc.
LOCATION: Randon Bragdon's Dental Office

DOCKET NO.: 97-16
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 523 US 726 (1998)
ARGUED: Feb 25, 1998
DECIDED: May 18, 1998

Frederick M. Gittes - Argued the cause for the private respondents
Malcolm L. Stewart - for federal respondents
Malcolm L. Stewart - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the federal respondents supporting the petitioner
Steven P. Quarles - for petitioner
Steven R. Quarles - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Pursuant to the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA), the United States Forest Service developed a Land and Resource Management Plan for Ohio's Wayne National Forest. The Plan sets logging goals, selects the areas suited to timber production, and determines which probable methods of timber harvest are appropriate, but it does not itself authorize the cutting of any trees. Ultimately, the Sierra Club filed suit, alleging that erroneous analysis leads the Plan wrongly to favor logging and clearcutting. The District Court granted the Forest Service summary judgment, finding that the Forest Service had acted lawfully in making the various challenged determinations. In reversing, the Court of Appeals, finding both that the Sierra Club had standing to bring suit, and that since the suit was "ripe for review," there was no need to wait "until a site-specific action occurs," held that the Plan improperly favored clearcutting and therefore violated the NFMA.


Does the United States Forest Service's Land and Resource Management Plan for Ohio's Wayne National Forest present a controversy that is justiciable? If so, does the Plan conform to statutory and regulatory requirements for a forest plan?

Media for Ohio Forestry Association, Inc. v. Sierra Club

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1998 in Ohio Forestry Association, Inc. v. Sierra Club

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 97-16, Ohio Forestry Association v. Sierra Club.

Mr. Stewart.

Malcolm L. Stewart:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court--

The National Forest Management Act requires the United States Forest Service to devise forest plans for each of the units within the national forest system.

That the plans are to be revised at 10 to 15-year intervals, and they perform two basic functions.

First, they provide general guidance to Forest Service employees in the management of the affected unit and, second, they serve a public informational function by giving the public general information about the likely management activities within the forest and, while the plans vary widely from place to place, all forest plans contain projections concerning anticipated timber harvesting activities within the national forest, and it's that feature of the plan that's at issue here today.

I'd like to start by saying that in our view it would be misleading to frame the question presented in this case as whether forest plans are reviewable.

We're not asking for a per se rule in this case and, indeed, we're really not asking for a special rule for forest plans.

What we're saying is that the Court should examine the particular plan provision that is at issue and ask whether the decision or determination reflected in that provision is reviewable under ordinary principles of administrative law and, in our view, the timber harvesting projections at issue in this case don't meet that test.

The harvesting--

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well then, in most cases the plans aren't unified documents?

Malcolm L. Stewart:

--The plans are unified documents.

That is, the plan is bound together.

It is a single document, but it contains a variety of provisions and some provisions may reflect decisions having immediate on the ground impact, others will not, and the question should be whether the particular plan provision at issue in a case has immediate on the ground impact, and--

Antonin Scalia:

Can you give me an example of a provision that would have immediate impact?

Malcolm L. Stewart:

--One of the cases we had in the Ninth Circuit this past summer and fall was a case in which the Forest Service amended the standards and guidelines contained in a plan that regulated the manner in which timber harvesting activities would be conducted and the document that adopted the plan amendment said, these amended standards and guidelines will not apply to ongoing timber harvesting activities.

And we were sued in that case and the plaintiff's contended that the agency had behaved unlawfully in failing to apply the new standards and guidelines to ongoing projects.

In the end we prevailed on the merits in that case, but we conceded that that was a justiciable controversy, because the decision not to make the standards and guidelines immediately applicable would have immediate on the ground impact.

David H. Souter:

Well, I take it you'd agree here that if their claim were that your plan was allowing motorcycles into a bird watching area or something that like, that would be immediately justiciable on your theory, would it not?

Malcolm L. Stewart:

That's correct.


Malcolm L. Stewart:

And our view is that--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Stewart, the respondents have filed some supplemental affidavits, have they not?

Malcolm L. Stewart:

--They have.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Is there anything... should we consider those and, if so, is there anything in those that would reflect an immediate actionable matter?

Malcolm L. Stewart:

I think the Court frankly has discretion whether to consider them or not.

They are part of the record below.

I think probably the more normal course would be not to consider them because they were filed after the court of appeals issued its decision and consequently they weren't part of the record that was before the court of appeals.

We don't believe, in any event, that the affidavits affect the justiciability of plaintiff's facial challenge to the plan.

That is, the affidavits may suggest that there are individual timber harvesting activities which are having, or did have before they were enjoined, immediate on the ground impact and those specific timber harvesting activities would have been subject to judicial review.