Ecology Center, Inc. v. Austin
430 F.3d 1057 (9th Cir. 2005)

  • After a forest fire at the Lolo National Forest, the US Forest Service prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to determine how to recover. The EIS recommended the commercial thinning of small diameter trees, prescribed controlled burning in old-growth forest stands, and salvage logging of dead trees.
  • Environmental Groups (led by Ecology Center) sued for an injunction.
    • Ecology Center argued that the EIS violated the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
      • Even though the Forest Service had written an EIS, Ecology Center argued that it was insufficient because it didn't go into detail about the basis for the Forest Service's decisions, it just made general statements without any facts or scientific analysis to back them up.
  • The Trial Court found for the Forest Service. Ecology Center appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate Court found that, in general, the courts should defer to the judgment of Agency experts, unless it can be shown that their conclusions are arbitrary and capricious.
      • See Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council (467 U.S. 837 (1984)).
    • The Court looked at the Forest Service EIS and found that they had not performed any on the ground analysis to test to see if their theories for how to recover from forest fires were effective.
      • The Court likened this to marketing a drug without doing a clinical trial to see if the drug was safe and effective.
    • The Court found that since the Forest Service failed to provide a factual basis for its analysis and failed to adequately explain the basis of its decision, their plan was arbitrary and capricious.
    • The Court remanded back to the Forest Service to try again and write an EIS that contained a better analysis.
  • Compare to Sierra Club v. Marita (46 F.3d 606 (1995)). In that case the Court said that they would not question an Agency's decision to use one scientific method over another one, but in this case the Court said that the Agency must at least use some kind of scientific methodology in their decision-making process.