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.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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.”