Conservation Groups Sue Bureau of Land Management over Protest Process and Timber Sales Decision

Environmental conservation organizations are challenging a recent Bureau of Land Management decision to eliminate the administrative protest process for timber sales. 

The BLM announced last year a final rule amending a 1984 regulation that required a 15-day public protest process for certain forest management decisions, including timber sales. If the protest was denied under the regulation, the filer had 30 days to appeal the decision and could request a stay of the timber sale decision. The BLM’s final rule, which took effect earlier this year, effectively does away with this process, the lawsuit states.

Plaintiffs Cascadia Wildlands, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Oregon Wild claim that the BLM’s elimination of the public protest process violates the Federal Land Policy Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. 

“Elimination of the administrative protest process, along with a lack of automatic stay for full force and effect timber sale decisions, results in a lack of meaningful administrative review for timber sale projects,” the plaintiffs argue. “Such a policy is not permissible under FLPMA because it violates the statute’s command that the BLM provide the public with ‘objective administrative review of initial [BLM] decisions’ and to give the public ‘an opportunity…to participate in the…execution of plans and programs for, and the management of, the public lands.’”

Under the APA, agencies are required to supply reasoned analysis for a change in position and to respond to significant public comments during the rulemaking process. Plaintiffs alleged that the BLM failed to meet both of these requirements in concern to the timber sale decision. 

“The BLM did not address public comments, including those from Plaintiff organizations, regarding why the elimination of the administrative protest process: was a poor policy decision; would lead to subpar ecological results for many reasons including increased controversy and costs; would increase the risk of wildfire; and would implicate issues with the lack of transparent, collaborative administrative processes that are recognized as highly valuable to a functioning democracy, including democratic processes pertaining to the management of public lands,” the lawsuit states. 

The plaintiffs are represented by the Western Environmental Law Center