Public Lands for the People v. USDA

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 09-26-2012
  • Case #: 11-15007
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge McKeown for the Court; Chief Judge Kozinski and Circuit Judge N.R. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

Pursuant to the Organic Administration Act of 1987, the U.S. Forest Service is within its authority in redefining public roads to limit the use of motor vehicle traffic on forest land.

The Public Lands for the People (“the Miners”), a group of miners and prospectors, challenged the U.S. Forest Service’s (a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) 2008 decision to limit the use of motor vehicles in El Dorado National Forest. The Miners claim that the restriction will adversely affect prospecting access, limit the discovery of new minerals and impinge on several existing mineral rights claims. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding that the Miners lacked standing for failing to show injury in fact. The Court disagreed, holding that the Miners could demonstrate injury in fact because they were able to show that the “access to their Federal mining claims and mineral estates had been closed” due to the 2008 decision. The Miners next argued that the Forest Service lacked the authority to limit the use of motor vehicles due to 36 C.F.R. § 228.4(a), which exempts public roads from needing a Notice of Intent to Use. The Court rejected this argument, affirming the district court’s dismissal, holding that the Organic Administration Act of 1897 gives the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to “adopt reasonable rules and regulations which do not impermissibly encroach upon the right to the use and enjoyment of claims for mining purposes.” Pursuant to this authority, the Forest Service used an appropriate balancing test by considering the impacts of motor vehicles on forest land and miners rights to prospect the land. Additionally, the Court acknowledged the Forest Service’s wide discretion in redefining public roads, placing the roads at issue outside of the regulatory exception. AFFIRMED.

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