The USDA Forest Service is sued more often than any other federal agency under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). This analysis examines Forest Service land management cases initiated from 1989 to 2008 to understand how the agency fared in NEPA cases. Of the 1,064 completed cases, 671 (63.1%) involved a NEPA challenge. The agency won the final outcome of 343 cases (51.1%), lost 176 (26.2%), and settled 152 (22.7%). Case characteristic analyses indicate that case decisions peaked at the end of the 1990s, occurred mostly in the Ninth Circuit, and predominately involved vegetative management, forest planning, roads, recreation, and wildlife management activities. In addition to these general case outcomes, we conducted an in-depth analysis of the 411 cases where a judge or panel of judges specifically ruled on a NEPA challenge. The agency won the NEPA claim in 69.3% of these cases. The Forest Service was most successful litigating supplemental environmental impact statement cases and least successful in categorical exclusion cases. Most challenges to Forest Service NEPA implementation were based on environmental assessments (EAs) and environmental impact statements (EISs). The agency was more likely to win a direct and indirect effects EA challenge and a range of alternatives EIS challenge. Since the Forest Service accounts for a large portion of all NEPA litigation, this research enhances understanding of legal challenges to NEPA's implementation.
Environmental Practice 12:116–126 (2010)