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Sample FOIA requests and appeals

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT REQUEST                   February 28, 2001

United States Forest Service FOIA Office
Department of Agriculture
12th Street & Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250


Re:  Disclosure of instructions to staff that affect the public which have been adopted by the Forest Service relating to a report called "The Wisdom of the Owl: A summary of the Policy Lessons Based on the History of the Spotted Owl Controversy," and documents which discuss any plans for any such future staff instructions.

Dear Sir or Madam,

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. §552, as amended).

By this letter I am requesting any documents you may have which contain instructions to Forest Service staff affecting members of the public which have been adopted by the Forest Service consequent to a report called "The Wisdom of the Owl: A summary of the Policy Lessons Based on the History of the Spotted Owl Controversy." This report was written by Steve Yaffee for the Forest Service. I also request any documents which discuss any plans to issue such staff instructions in the future. Such documents need not be identified by title or "draft"/"final" designations if to do so would compromise the Service's decision-making process. In such cases, the requesters ask that you merely delete such revealing designations and release the balance. In light of the ongoing and contentious public policy controversy regarding the Owl, I note that time is of the essence in this matter. There is a great need for prompt disclosure so that the released information may more adequately inform the public debate.

I am making this request on behalf of ____________. The ____________ actively informs the public on matters affecting forest use policy in the Pacific Northwest. Through publications, commentary to the press, sponsorship of educational programs and events, and the development of an institutional expertise regarding forest habitat protection, it has become very involved in the development of a regional agenda for the protection of ancient forests and the Spotted Owl's habitat. The ___________ has lobbied, litigated, and publicly commented on federal actions which often directly affect the Northern Spotted Owl or its habitat.

These documents will illuminate in a clear and direct way, the operations and activities of the USFS as it acts to fulfill important Congressional mandates to protect the environment. As such, their release will significantly contribute to public understanding and oversight of the USFS's operations, particularly regarding the quality of the USFS's activities and the efficacy of both Congressional directives and USFS policies and regulations relating to the Spotted Owl and its habitat.

We will analyze the data presented in the released documents and our staff of experts will produce a report as part of our ongoing review of Forest Service operations. The report will be published on our web site (which averages 1000 hits per week) as well as disseminated to the media and Congress as a component of our active involvement in legislation addressing natural resources issues. Additionally, the information will be featured as part of an continuing series of articles pertaining to the evolution of the Forest Service which has been running in our group's newsletter (which has a subscription list numbering in the thousands).

The requesters plan to make these documents available to the public at the University of Oregon's Law Library. As this is a facility open to the general public, many people will thereby have access to the information contained in the materials which are the subject of this request. Further, as the library is a Federal Repository, its Congressionally certified status as a resource to foster openness in government, as well is its role in facilitating the teaching and research occurring at the University, will be well served. These materials will not be used for commercial use or gain.

This request is not meant to be exclusive of any other records which, though not specifically requested, would have a reasonable relationship to the subject matter of this request.

In the event that access to any of the requested records is denied, please note that the FOIA provides that if only portions of a requested file are exempted from release, the remainder must still be released. I therefore request that I be provided with all non-exempt portions which are reasonably segregable. I further request that you describe the deleted material in detail and specify the statutory basis for the denial as well as your reasons for believing that the alleged statutory justification applies in this instance. Please separately state your reasons for not invoking your discretionary powers to release the requested documents in the public interest. Such statements will be helpful in deciding whether to appeal an adverse determination, and in formulating arguments in case an appeal is taken. The USFS's written justification might also help to avoid unnecessary litigation. I of course reserve my right to appeal the withholding or deletion of any information and expect that you will list the office and address were such an appeal can be sent.

I anticipate, however, that you will make the requested materials available within the statutorily prescribed period. I thus also request that you waive any applicable fees since disclosure meets the statutory standard for waiver of fees in that it is clearly "in the public interest because furnishing the information can be considered as primarily benefiting the general public," 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A). In this regard, I reiterate that I have no intention of using the information disclosed for financial gain. If for some reason, the fee waiver request is denied, while reserving my right to appeal such a decision, I am willing to pay $5.00 (five dollars) to cover costs of document search and duplication.

Access to the requested records should be granted within twenty (20) working days from the date of your receipt. Failure to respond in a timely manner shall be viewed as a denial of this request and the requesters may immediately file an administrative appeal. Thanking you in advance for your prompt reply.


David A. Bahr, Attorney at Law

Sample FOIA Request Letter (generic)
Sample FOIA Request Letter (specific example)
Sample FOIA Appeal Letter (generic)
Sample FOIA Appeal Letter (specific example)
Sample FOIA Overdue Response Reminder Letter
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