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Supreme court agrees to hear dispute over California forest plan

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Supreme Court justices on Monday agreed to consider whether an environmental group could challenge a management plan for a national forest in the Sierra Nevada.

The Obama administration had asked the court to overturn an appeals court ruling that allowed the environmental group, Pacific Rivers Council, to question a 2004 management plan for 11 national forests in the mountain range.

In the subsequent ruling, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the group, saying the Forest Service had failed to properly analyze how the plan would affect fish, a requirement under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Obama administration argued that the group did not have legal standing to challenge the plan in the first place. That is because the plan itself does not authorize site-specific projects, government lawyers said. Therefore, the environmental group cannot cite any specific injury caused by the plan, they argued. The administration says the group may be able to sue at a later date, once site-specific plans have been issued.

The administration also argued that even if the group did have standing, the appeals court's interpretation of how the National Environmental Policy Act is implemented was also incorrect.

Oral argument and a decision are expected in the court's next term, which runs from October 2013 to June 2014.

The case is U.S. Forest Service v. Pacific Rivers Council, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-623.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and Mohammad Zargham)

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