Apr 282015

A coalition of "timber, ranching, and forest recreation industries" lack standing to challenge the Forest Service's 2012 planning rule, a federal judge has ruled (Federal Forest Resource Coalition v. Vilsack, 12-1333 KBJ, D.D.C.).

"Plaintiffs have failed to show that the 2012 Planning Rule threatens an injury-in-fact that is imminent, or particularized. Moreover, because the injuries that plaintiffs allege cannot be traced to the challenged action of the defendant, plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that the 2012 Planning Rule will cause them harm," U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said in her opinion, issued today.

She previously issued an order in the case; the opinion elucidates the reasons behind that order.

"The gravamen of plaintiffs’ complaint . . . is the contention that the 2012 Planning Rule exceeds the Forest Service’s statutory authority by requiring land management plans to privilege environmental goals, such as maintaining 'ecological sustainability' and 'ecosystem services,' over other competing uses of national forests, such as logging, grazing, and recreation," the judge summarized.

The plaintiffs are:

Federal Forest Resource Coalition, American Forest Resource Council, Blueribbon Coalition, California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs, Public Lands Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, American Sheep Industry Association, Alaska Forestry Association, Resource Development Council For Alaska, Minnesota Forest Industries Inc., Minnesota Timber Producers Association, California Forestry Association, and Montana Wood Products Association.

Four environmental groups intervened on the side of the government: Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild, The Wilderness Society and Defenders of Wildlife.

Mar 162015

Let's not do the Time Warp again.

That was the message from U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, who said on March 11 that the Forest Service did not rely on the best available science when it updated its travel management plan (Friends of the Clearwater v. U.S. Forest Service, 13-515 EJL, D. Idaho).

A press release announcing the decision is below. Here's an excerpt:

The Forest Service issued a memo on May 2, 2011 providing its interpretation and reasoning for applying the guidelines for measuring [Elk Habitat Effectiveness] as those used in the Forest Plan to include roads but not motorized trails. (AR5750-51.) The memo discusses the model used in the Forest Plan as being limited to roads and states that although “the model has evolved over the years and now includes factors for trails, the test for Forest Plan standards must be made using the model as it existed at the time of the forest plan. Otherwise the standards in the Plan become a moving target. It is appropriate to utilize the current model to consider trail effects for the purpose of comparing alternatives to each other but not as a test for Forest Plan compliance.” (AR5751.)

Plaintiffs maintain this memo does not satisfy 36 C.F.R. § 219.35(a) because it does not substantively consider the best science found in the 1997 guidelines nor does it discuss science in any form. (Dkt. 38 at 8 n. 10.) Plaintiffs further dispute this conclusion arguing it is “an exercise in management convenience” that fails to satisfy the requirements of NFMA. (Dkt. 38 at 8 n. 10.) Plaintiffs assert that once the Forest Service became aware of the 1997 Guidelines they were required to either 1) alter the Travel Plan or 2) amend the Forest Plan. (Dkt. 38 at 7 n. 9.) The Court agrees with the Plaintiffs.

To accept the Forest Service’s conclusion would be to allow analysis and reasoning be made in a time-warp as if nothing has changed since 1987 when the guidelines for measuring the very data at issue have clearly and undisputably changed. While the Court agrees that generally data should be measured using the same yardstick, the Forest Service here takes that logic too far in order to conclude that the Travel Plan complies with the Forest Plan.

Judge rules in favor of plaintiffs against agency travel plan


March 12, 2015

Contacts: Gary Macfarlane or Brett Haverstick, Friends of the Clearwater (208) 882-9755

Al Poplawsky, Palouse Group-Sierra Club (208) 669-1065
Mike Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies (406) 459-5936
Dave Bahr, Bahr Law Offices (541) 556-6439

MOSCOW, ID-Yesterday afternoon, the honorable Judge Edward Lodge ruled on the legal challenge brought forth by Friends of the Clearwater, Palouse Group-Sierra Club and Alliance for the Wild Rockies on the Clearwater National Forest Travel Plan. The plaintiffs challenged the sufficiency of the federal agencies’ analysis and the lack of compliance with executive orders on minimizing off-road vehicle impacts. Judge Lodge ruled that the Forest Service failed to adequately protect wildlife habitat and, indeed, had not minimized impacts from off-road vehicles.

Attorney for the groups, David Bahr, said, “We are pleased that the judge agreed with us that the travel plan does not use the best available science to protect elk and does not minimize motorized use impacts as the law requires.”

The 38-page ruling clearly addresses the failings of the Forest Service’s decision. The plaintiffs believe that the ruling will result in greater protection for wildlands and wildlife on the Clearwater National Forest.

Gary Macfarlane, of Friends of the Clearwater, stated, “This is great news for the public wildlands on the Clearwater National Forest. Places like Cayuse Creek and Fish & Hungery Creeks deserve protection and the ruling reflects that.”

“This is an important ruling for wildlife in the Clearwater. Wildlife habitat needs to be adequately protected from motorized intrusion, whether its via roads or trails,” added Al Poplawsky with the Palouse-Group Sierra Club.

Judge Lodge ruled that the agency did not use the best available science in making its decision, as outlined in the 1997 Interagency Guidelines for Evaluating and Managing Elk Habitats and Populations in Central Idaho.

The Forest Service needs to implement the best available science in measuring off-road vehicle impacts to species like elk,” said Brett Haverstick with Friends of the Clearwater. “The agency failed to apply the appropriate measures in order to comply with 100% Elk Habitat Effectiveness.”

Besides negative impacts to terrestrial species like elk, plaintiffs were also concerned about off-road vehicle impacts to aquatic species on the forest.

“Thanks to the members of Friends of the Clearwater for working hard to bring stronger protections to Clearwater Country,” said Mike Garrity with the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “It’s important that the Forest Service follow the law and protect critical habitat for species like bull trout, too.”

Feb 182015

The Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court decision that upheld the Forest Service’s approval of a small fuels treatment/commercial timber harvest project on the Umatilla National Forest (The Lands Council v. U.S. Forest Service, 14-35176). (South George Vegetation and Fuels Management Project) The brief, unpublished decision rejected claims brought under the National Forest Management Act […]

Feb 052015

See our Federal Register page for more Posted for Public Inspection  NMFS begins 5-year reviews of 32 listed species: 17 evolutionarily significant units (ESUs) of Pacific salmon; 11 distinct population segments (DPSs) of steelhead; the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin DPSs of yelloweye rockfish, canary rockfish, and bocaccio rockfish; and the southern DPS of eulachon | More […]

Jan 052015

The Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service adequately reviewed a thinning project in the Nez Perce National Forest, the Ninth Circuit concluded in an unpublished opinion released today (Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR) v. Brazell, 14-35050). The judges on the opinion are M. Margaret McKeown, Richard C. Tallman and Michael Daly Hawkins. AWR […]

Dec 172014

The Ninth Circuit yesterday affirmed a lower court order upholding federal agencies’ review and approval of the Beaverslide Project and its effect on the threatened Northern spotted owl (Conservation Congress v. Finley, 12-16916). See below for a summary of the decision, which addresses claims brought under the ESA, NFMA and NEPA. Follow the link in […]

Nov 212014

A conservation group in Montana will have another chance to challenge helicopter hazing of bison in Yellowstone National Park following a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Thursday, but the court may have made its task a little harder (Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. USDA, 13-35253). That’s because the court, while finding that the […]