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Snowlands Network, Winter Wildlands Alliance, and Center For Biological Diversity v. United States Forest Service

October 4, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge


Plaintiffs are three environmental organizations contending that Defendant United States Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 4321, et seq., by failing to adequately analyze the Over Snow Vehicle Program's ("Program") environmental impact. Presently before the Court is a Motion to Intervene filed on behalf of several individuals and associations interested in recreational snowmobile use or snowmobile sales ("Applicants").

The Program represents the combined efforts of Defendant and the California Department of Parks and Recreation to facilitate snowmobile use in eleven National Forests ("forests"). Under the Program, Defendant enters into contracts with California and third parties regarding trail grooming and general maintenance. Plaintiffs allege that the Program increases the number of snowmobiles operated in the forests, which harms wildlife and causes additional air pollution and noise. As a result, Plaintiffs argue that Defendant must perform a thorough study of the Program's harmful environmental consequences.

Applicants claim that Plaintiffs' success in this lawsuit could affect the Program's very existence and, without the Program, Applicants' lawful interests in snowmobile use and sales would be restricted. Unlike Defendant, which will likely defend its actions in general terms, Applicants request intervention to assert their more narrow interests.

Applicants argue that they should be allowed to intervene as a matter of right under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a).*fn2

Alternatively, Applicants seek permissive intervention pursuant to Rule 24(b). While not disputing intervention into the lawsuit's remedy phase, Plaintiffs oppose Applicants' motion regarding the liability phase, contending that Applicants fail to meet that stage's intervention requirements. Defendant takes no position on the intervention motion itself, but if the Court grants intervention, Defendant seeks several restrictions.


A. Intervention as a Matter of Right under Rule 24(a) An applicant has the right to intervene under Rule 24(a) if 1) the intervention request is made in a timely fashion; 2) a "significantly protectable" interest related to the subject matter of the litigation is asserted; 3) disposition of the matter may impair or impede the applicant's interest in the absence of intervention; and 4) if the applicant's interest is not adequately represented by existing parties. Wetlands Action Network v. United States Army Corps of Eng'rs, 222 F.3d 1105, 1113-14 (9th Cir. 2000).

Until recently, private parties could not intervene as a matter of right in an action alleging NEPA violations on grounds that such parties do not have the requisite significantly protectable interest in NEPA compliance actions.

Kootenai Tribe of Idaho v. Veneman, 313 F.3d 1094, 1108 (9th Cir. 2004). However, recent case law no longer categorically bans private parties from intervention as a matter of right in NEPA lawsuits. Wilderness Soc'y v. U.S. Forest Serv., 630 F.3d 1173, 1178 (9th Cir. 2011). The Wilderness Society court emphasized the importance of fulfilling Rule 24(a)'s requirements and advancing a liberal policy favoring intervention, even in NEPA lawsuits. Id. at 1179.

1. Applicants have made a timely intervention request.

"Timeliness is to be determined from all the circumstances" in the court's "sound discretion." NAACP v. New York, 413 U.S. 345, 366 (1973). The only significant pleadings in this case are the complaint and a motion to extend the deadline for responsive pleadings. Additionally, the Court cannot foresee other parties being prejudiced. As a result, the request is timely.

2. Applicants have a significant protectable interest related to the subject matter of this litigation.

A proposed intervenor has "a 'significant protectable interest' in [the] action if (1) [it asserts] an interest that is protected under some law, and (2) there is a 'relationship' between [that] ...

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