Citizens for Better Forestry and eleven other environmental organizations (collectively environmental groups) sued the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Forest Service (collectively USDA) alleging procedural violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the promulgation of new regulations for the management of national forests (2000 Rule). The suit was brought under the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). In a reversal of the lower court, the Ninth Circuit granted the environmental groups standing to sue and ruled that their claims were ripe for review. The court then remanded the case to the district court for a decision on the merits.
The Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 and the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA) govern the management of national forests and grasslands in the United States. These acts prescribe a three-tiered system of management: 1) at the highest level, national uniform regulations that govern the development of regional and local plans; 2) at the middle level, regional land and resource management plans (LRMPs) that cover large units of national forest; and 3) at the local level, site-specific plans prepared for each specific action. According to NFMA, "[s]ite-specific plans . . . must be consistent with both sets of higher-level rules." On October 5, 1999 USDA published proposed changes to the national regulations and asked the public to submit comments until February 10, 2000. The proposed rule did not include any analysis of the effects of the new regulations on the environment. Rather, USDA prepared a separate environmental assessment (EA) and finding of no significant impact dated July 21, 2000. These documents were not published in the Federal Register and were never open for public comment. While USDA held hearings on the substance of the new rule, it did not hold hearings on the environmental impacts of the rule. Nor did USDA consult with the Secretaries of the Interior or Commerce or prepare a biological assessment of the rule's impact on endangered species as required by the ESA.
The final regulations were published on November 9, 2000. The new regulations reduce protection of endangered species from the requirement that USDA "insure continued species existence" to the requirement that USDA "provide a high likelihood that conditions will be capable of supporting over time the viability of a species." The new rule also eliminates the requirement for regional guides as well as many of the minimum specific management requirements, including limits on clear-cutting. Finally, the new rule replaces the post-decision appeal process with a pre-decision objection process and reduces the time for public comment from 90 days to 30 days. The environmental groups brought suit in district court challenging the substance of the 2000 Rule, claiming that USDA's procedures violated NEPA and the ESA. Because the substantive challenge has been stayed pending revisions to the 2000 Rule currently in process, the court only considered the procedural challenge.
The first issue before the court was whether the environmental groups had standing to sue. Constitutional standing must be established by finding that a plaintiff has concrete interests at stake, has suffered an injury in fact caused by defendants' actions, and the injury can be redressed by the court. When the alleged injury is procedural, as it is here, plaintiffs must show that "it is reasonably probable that the challenged action will threaten their concrete interests." The Ninth Circuit found that USDA's "complete failure to involve or even inform the public"  about the EA worked a procedural injury on The environmental groups, who have concrete interests at stake because their members observe nature and wildlife in national forests. The injury "consists of added risk to the environment that takes place when governmental decisionmakers make up their minds without having before them an analysis (with public comment) of the likely effects of their decisions on the environment." USDA argued that the 2000 Plan does not itself injure The environmental groups because it has no direct effect on the environment. Moreover, all LRMPs and site-specific plans that do affect the environment will be subject to the NEPA process, and The environmental groups will have the opportunity to comment on those documents. The Court pointed out that it had rejected this line of reasoning in at least three cases on the basis that the rights and duties of the parties at the regional and site-specific levels are defined by conditions imposed at the higher level. To find otherwise would be to render the national level regulations useless and superfluous. Furthermore, the Court noted that if The environmental groups could not challenge the national regulations at this time, those regulations would forever escape review. The court then found that USDA's actions were the cause of The environmental groups's grievance and that allowing public participation in the environmental review of the 2000 Rule would redress that injury.
In addition to constitutional standing, plaintiffs must meet associational and APA requirements for standing. To meet the requirements for associational standing, plaintiff organizations must have members who would "have standing to sue in their own right," the interests of the organization must be germane to the interests at stake in the lawsuit, and the lawsuit must not require the participation of individual members. The court determined that the environmental organizations bringing suit had associational standing. Many of their members had been harmed individually and would thus have standing to sue on their own. The interests at stake in this case were environmental and were thus germane to The environmental groups's interests. Finally, the suit neither required nor would benefit from the participation of individual members. To meet the APA requirements for standing a plaintiff must prove that the agency action under review is final and that the plaintiff's interests fall within the zone of interests protected by the agency action. The court found that The environmental groups met these requirements because the publication of the 2000 Rule represented final agency action and The environmental groups, as protectors of the environment, are within the zone of interest protected by NEPA.
The second issue before the court was whether or not the claim was ripe for review. In Ohio Forestry Ass'n v. Sierra Club, the Supreme Court articulated a three-pronged test for ripeness in administrative cases: "1) whether delayed review would cause hardship to the plaintiffs; 2) whether judicial intervention would inappropriately interfere with further administrative action; and 3) whether the courts would benefit from further factual development of the issues presented." Using this test, the Ninth Circuit determined that The environmental groups's claim was ripe. First, delayed review would be a hardship to The environmental groups because some LRMPs are being revised to comply with the new plan and USDA has already implemented the 30-day public protest process. Second, judicial intervention would not interfere with further administrative action because the 2000 Rule has been finalized. Third, the facts need no further development. The Ninth Circuit found support for its determination in the Supreme Court statement that a NEPA injury becomes ripe when the procedural violation occurs, and "the claim can never get riper."
Based on its rulings that The environmental groups had standing to sue and that the claim was ripe, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of partial summary judgment in favor of the USDA and remanded the case to the district court for a decision on the merits.
 Throughout its analysis, the Ninth Circuit addressed only the NEPA claim, stating in a footnote that this analysis was "equally applicable to claims of any procedural environmental injury," including those of the ESA. Id at 971, n.6.
 Res. Ltd. v. Robertson, 35 F.3d 1300 (9th Cir. 1994); Salmon River Concerned Citizens v. Robertson, 32 F.3d 1346 (9th Cir. 1994); Idaho Conservation League v. Mumma, 956 F.2d 1508 (9th Cir. 1992).