The Forest Service has the power to make decisions that involve logging and other projects that can be harmful to forests. Once the Forest Service makes a decision to go ahead with a project, a period for appeal exists, usually 45 days, whereby the opinion of a higher official in the agency can be sought. Logging and land exchange decisions are usually made by a District Ranger or a Forest Supervisor. Decisions made by rangers or supervisors can be appealed to the Regional Forester. Decisions to adopt forest management plans are made by the Regional Forester and appealed to the Chief of the Forest Service in Washington, DC.
Contact the Forest Service
Unlike a lawsuit which usually requires the assistance of a lawyer to file, administrative appeals can be done by anyone and done successfully. Since you are asking one official in an agency to veto the decision of another official in the same agency, administrative appeals are not often successful, but at times, they can be won. If you lose the appeal, you are then free to file a lawsuit in federal court over the proposed action.
Look at examples
Current National Forest regulations
Regulations under the new law are as follows:
(1) Environmental Assessments (EA’s) will be issued prior to the issuing of a decision, rather than concurrently. There will follow a 30 day period for public comment on EA’s. Notice of the opportunity to comment on proposed projects will be published in local newspapers and mailed to persons who have either participated in the scoping process for the proposal or who have written the agency and have asked to be put on a list to receive such notifications.
(2) Once a final decision is made on a project, there is a 45-day appeal period. Appeals are limited to people who submitted oral or written comments during the 30-day comment period, and to people who otherwise notified the Forest Service of their interest in the proposal. For example, if a person wrote the agency asking for the EA and other relevant information about a proposal, but did not receive it from the Forest Service until the comment period ended, that person’s right to appeal would still be protected. This also means that while the right to appeal is limited to groups or individuals who participated in the comment period, the basis of appeals would not be limited solely to issues raised in the comments. If an appeal is filed, an automatic stay of action is granted until the appeal is ruled on by the Forest Service.
(3) Once an appeal is filed, the Forest Service has 30 days to resolve the appeal, but can extend the deadline an additional 15 days. If the Forest Service fails to rule on the appeal within 45 days, it is treated as a "final decision" and the only remaining recourse is to take the Forest Service to court. This one of the concessions granted to the timber industry during this process.
(4) The Forest Service is not allowed to proceed with an action at least until the end of the 45-day appeal period. If no appeals are filed, the activity may go forward at that time. Again, if an appeal is filed, the automatic stay remains in place until either the appeal is decided, or, if the Forest Service fails to rule on the appeal within 45 days, the stay is extended for an additional 15 days to give the appellants time to go to court.
(5) Under the new law, no Forest Service decision, including salvage sales, may be exempted from appeal.
(6) Remember: Without good laws in place, the appeals process would be worthless. We must continue to fight for stronger forest protection legislation. To read the law, which includes interesting information about various regulations in all federal land agencies, order a FREE copy from the House Document Office: Public Law 102-381 "Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1993". Phone the House Document Office at 202-225-3456, or look it up on the Congressional webpage
When the Forest Service fails to respond sufficiently to your appeal, or denies an appeal that has definite merit, the next step citizens can take is to use the court system—file a lawsuit. Lawsuits are used to challenge the legality of Forest Service plans and actions (among other things), and if an illegal plan is being implemented, a lawsuit may result in a court injunction against the action, immediately halting all work.
Before you can file a lawsuit, you must first establish your "standing": your eligibility to file against the agency and/or the action that you are challenging. This means that you must show that the action taken will have direct adverse effects on you or your interests. Usually, you must also show that you have been involved in the planning process from early on, commenting on the forest plans and proposed actions. The Act to Save America's Forests would direct the Courts to give standing to any citizen.
A lawsuit can be an expensive and lengthy endeavor, and if at first you don’t succeed, you need to be prepared to appeal the decision, possibly many times. The person or group filing a lawsuit must consider their resources of time and money, the timing of the lawsuit (relative to other events), and all the possible loopholes. Professional legal guidance is a must.
Timing can be very important before and during a lawsuit. There have been many tragic instances where a judge has imposed an injunction against a logging operation, but not before the loggers had the chance to get in and cut the trees down, making the injunction meaningless, and allowing the death of one more "last place." The death of the Millennium Grove in Oregon is an infamous example. Beware of crafty logging companies and politically motivated judges!
Many larger groups have used lawsuits to bring increased media attention to this controversial issue. The success of the northern spotted owl Endangered Species Act case has brought public awareness of forest destruction to unprecedented heights.
The strength of these high profile lawsuits lies in their effect as a deterrent. Groups often use the threat of a lawsuit to induce the Administration or Congress to take action to correct a problem. Unfortunately, most of the laws governing the Forest Service currently have such weak enforcement provisions that there is very little a court can do to stop the USFS from continuing with illegal sales. The most successful cases have been filed under a handful of laws such as the Endangered Species Act, which require a lot of expertise and money to bring to court.
Laws with strong citizen enforcement provisions, such as the Act to Save America's Forests, would provide for dispersed enforcement of forest laws by average citizens. For more information on citizen enforcement, see Government 101.
As with the appeals process, citizens’ rights to judicial review are also being threatened by the Forest Service and Congress. What we are seeing are continuing attempts to concentrate more and more power in the hands of the Administration and its agency, the Forest Service. This threatens the very structure of our democratic system. TOP
Reform From Within
Many activists within the agencies they are trying to reform are vigorously exercising their right to Freedom of Speech. The group Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) is an example of the "whistleblower" activist groups. As part of an agency gone astray, members of the Forest Service have raised their voices to steer the Forest Service towards new goals of biodiversity and sustainability. This dissident group has caused upheaval within the Forest Service, giving many employees the courage to speak up. They have led to heavy handed Forest Service responses like the political ouster in 1991 of Region 1 (Idaho, Montana) Supervisor John Mumma, who refused to break environmental laws in order to "get the cut out". FSEEE has organized chapters in all regions of the country and continues to be an outspoken advocate of environmental ethics within the Forest Service.
If you are a member of an environmental group, you should urge it to publicly support the Act to Save America's Forests. Encourage your group to create an aggressive agenda for nationwide forest protection legislation and local assistance in defense against forest destruction. Sign your group onto the Save America's Forests coalition, and join in this historic movement. For more information about the Act to Save America's Forests, and how you can join the campaign to pass the Act into law, see www.saveamericasforests.org .TOP