West Virginia Div. of Izaak Walton League of America, Inc. v. Butz
(The Monongahela Case)
522 F.2d 945 (4th Cir. 1975)

  • The US Forest Service entered into some contracts with timber companies to harvest timber in the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.
    • The contracts allowed the clearcutting of forests, which meant that 100% of the trees would be cut down.
    • Clearcutting is economically efficient, but increases the risk of fires, harms species, and causes erosion and water pollution problems.
  • Environmental groups (led by IWLA) sued for an injunction.
    • IWLA argued that the sale violated the Organic Act of 1897 (16 U.S.C. 476), because it allowed for the cutting of trees that were not dead, and did not require the individual marking of trees.
    • The timber industry argued that following the exact wording of 476 would make it economically impossible to harvest trees.
      • Marking every single tree would be a very labor-intensive process.
  • The Trial Court found for IWLA and issued an injunction. The Forest Service appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court read the plain language of 476, which said that only "dead, mature, or large growth" trees could be cut, and that every tree must be "marked and designated."
      • The Forest Service suggested alternate meanings for "mature" and "large growth" but the Court didn't buy it.
    • The Court also looked to the legislative history of 476 and found that Congress' primary purpose was to preserve the National Forests, not to sell timber.
      • The Forest Service argued that their role had changed from custodian to production agency, but the Court found that didn't change the meaning of 476.
      • The Court looked to Wilderness Society v. Morton (479 F.2d 842 (1973)) and noted that the judiciary cannot rewrite old Statutes that have become anachronistic with respect to current technology.
      • The Court suggested that if the Forest Service and the timber industry didn't like it, they should get Congress to change the law.
  • After this decision, Congress repealed 476 and replaced it with the National Forest Management Act (NFMA)(16 U.S.C. 1604).