Sierra Club v. Lyng
662 F.Supp. 40 (D.C.C. 1987)
663 F.Supp. 556 (D.C.C. 1987)

  • The US Forest Service developed a program to control beetle infestations in several Wilderness Areas (and commercial timber interests near the Areas).
    • The program involved extensive tree cutting and pesticide spraying.
    • The Forest Service did not write an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before implementing the program.
  • Sierra Club sued for an injunction.
    • Sierra Club argued that the Forest Service must write an EIS to be compliant with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
    • Sierra Club argued that the program could result in the death of endangered birds, and so it violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
    • The Forest Service argued that the courts had no authority to rule on the issue because the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1133(d)(1)) left all management decisions to the Forest Service's nonreviewable discretion.
  • The Trial Court found for Sierra Club and granted a preliminary injunction.
    • The Trial Court found that the Forest Service was required to justify insect control program by demonstrating program was necessary to effectively control threatened outside harm. Therefore the Forest Service was required to write an EIS.
      • "The purpose and effect of the program [was] solely to protect commercial timber interests and private property" and imposed an affirmative burden on the Forest Service to justify the eradication program in light of wilderness values.
    • However, the Court withheld judgment about whether the program was permissible pending publication of the EIS.
  • The Forest Service wrote an EIS on short-term beetle control, and a Record of Decision (ROD) laying out the Forest Service's reasoning for why they felt the beetle control plan was necessary.
    • The EIS did significantly narrow the scope of the program in order to address Sierra Club's concerns about environmental damage.
  • The Trial Court found for the Forest Service and allowed the program to be implemented.
    • The Trial Court found that program was reasonable and had a rational basis, therefore it could not be overturned, even if you could argue with the exact methodology used in the program.
      • Administrative Agency decisions are only overturned if they are arbitrary and capricious.
  • Although Sierra Club ultimately lost the legal battle, they were successful in getting the Forest Service to address most of their environmental concerns in the EIS and ROD.
  • Compare to The Wilderness Society v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (353 F.3d 1051 (2003)), in which commercial fishermen were prevented from stocking a stream in a Wilderness Area with fish to increase commercial fishing interests outside of the Area.