Sierra Club v. Marita
46 F.3d 606 (7th Cir. 1995)

  • The US Forest Service prepared some land-use plans for two National Forests in Wisconsin. As part of the planning process, they prepared a biodiversity inventory based on the representative plant and animal communities (aka indicator species), but rejected a proposed biodiversity reserve system linked by corridors.        
    • Under the plan, the Forest Service would monitor a few species (like a certain variety of owl or snake) as proxies, and as long as they could still find those indicator species they would just assume that the forest was healthy.
    • That meant that timber companies could harvest throughout the forests so long as the indicator species were maintained.
  • The Sierra Club sued for an injunction, claiming that the Forest Service did not have the discretion to ignore conservation biology.
    • Basically, the Sierra Club was worried that the Forest Service plan would effectively split up the big forest into a number of smaller areas, none of which would be able to support biodiversity independently.
    • The Sierra Club argued that was a violation of the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
      • Even though the Forest Service had performed an assessment, Sierra Club argued that it was insufficient because the scientific methods used were flawed.
  • The Trial Court found for the Forest Service. Sierra Club appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court noted that NFMA (16 U.S.C. 1604(g)(3)(B)) says that when preparing a forest management plan, the Forest Service must provide for diversity.
    • The Court found that the Forest Service had done a study that concluded that diversity would be protected.
      • The Sierra Club argued that the study was "junk science" and should not be relied on.
    • The Court found that the science the Forest Service used might be arguable, but it was not arbitrary and capricious, and so the courts should defer to the Forest Service's judgment.
  • This case is another example of how it is very difficult to overturn an Agency decision by arguing that they are using a bad scientific method as opposed to a good one. As long as the Agency has a scientific basis for their decision, the courts will almost always defer to their judgment.
    • Btw, after this case was decided, the Forest Service changed their minds and began to monitor forest heath through conservation biology and not through the use of indicator species.
      • For another example, see Inland Empire Public Lands Council v. United States Forest Service (88 F.3d 754 (1996)).
    • But, the Agency must have at least some factual basis for their decision, they can't just make a decision based on nothing at all.
      • See Ecology Center, Inc. v. Austin (430 F.3d 1057 (2005)).