Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Decision Wallace Stegner Would Have Loved

It seems somehow appropriate that today, on Wallace Stegner's birthday, the DC Circuit has granted summary judgment in favor of the US Forest Service (USFS) in a case that challenged that agency's legal authority to declare portions of the Tongass National Forest "old growth reserves," not available for timber  sales. The plaintiffs, a consortium of local Alaska communities and timber companies, argued that the USFS's management plan for the Tongass constituted an illegal "withdrawal" of old-growth  stands from public use without congressional authorization. The Court rejected that argument, holding that the setting aside of "old-growth reserves" did not constitute a withdrawal of the land from public use. The text of the ruling is here.

In this context, the term "withdrawal" is a technical term of art, referring to land legally removed from the public domain and multiple-use management. Only Congress has authority to "withdraw" lands from the public domain, with certain congressionally enacted exceptions under which the President has that authority.

Under the current Forest Management Plan for the Tongass, which the court today upheld, approximately 3.4 million acres of the 17-million acre national forest are open for timber harvesting.

Hat tip: Jurist

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