Two years ago, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Lost Creek-Boulder Creek Project in Idaho violated the Payette National Forest Plan and the National Forest Management Act. President Donald Trump’s lawless Forest Service disregarded the court’s decision and approved the same project again late last year. The Alliance took the issue back to court and now federal District Court Judge Winmill has stopped the project again, ruling that the Lost Creek Boulder Creek project continues to violate the Payette Forest Plan.
By ignoring a federal court’s mandate and moving forward with this project, the Forest Service attempts to insulate itself from a challenge on this crucial policy question: Is logging and burning 85,000 acres and bulldozing 25 miles of new roads forest restoration? The Alliance and the best available science contend that “restoration logging” is an oxymoron.
In terms Trump might comprehend, 85,000 acres is almost six times the size of Manhattan Island. Although the Payette Forest Plan limits the number of trees that could be cut to protect wildlife habitat, the agency thought it could get away with more logging by simply claiming logging isn’t logging — it’s “restoration” — but to do this they had to violate the Forest Plan.
What the Forest Plan requires
The Payette Forest Plan guides natural resource management activities on the Payette National Forest. It provides forest-wide, long-term management direction in the form of goals, objectives, standards and guidelines designed to ensure that while there is a sustainable supply of timber, a sustainable population of native species in the forest must also be maintained. Considering the project is in federally designated critical habitat for bull trout, which have been on the Endangered Species List for more than 20 years, extensive road-building and logging would do anything but restore a sustainable population of these iconic native fish.
In 2018, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that the Forest Service’s decision to approve the Lost Creek-Boulder Creek Project was “arbitrary and capricious,” “constituted a violation of the National Forest Management Act,” and ordered the project be vacated. Specifically, the court held that the project was not only inconsistent with the Payette Forest Plan, but that the agency had improperly adopted a new definition of “old forest habitat” for the Lost Creek Project area. The court then directed the lower court to send the proposal back to the Forest Service to force the agency to comply with the law and Forest Plan.
While the national debt is skyrocketing Trump’s Forest Service decided it was more important to have taxpayers subsidize a $22 million project for the timber industry than to protect bull trout critical habit and the Rapid River Inventoried Roadless Area as required by law.
The undeniable fact is that federal court decisions are binding on the Forest Service. But the lawless Trump administration has a growing record of ignoring both the U.S. Constitution and federal court orders. Therefore, we had little choice except to exercise our First Amendment rights under the Constitution and take Trump’s Forest Service back to court — especially considering the horrific precedent ignoring the court sets for other illegal actions by federal agencies.
Winning environmental lawsuits is always hard — but we are happy to dedicate this victory to one of Idaho’s environmental heroes, Ron Mitchell, who directed Idaho Sporting Congress and joined the Alliance and Native Ecosystems Council lawsuit to stop Trump’s Forest Service from decimating his beloved Payette National Forest.
Ron unfortunately died from a COVID-19 induced heart attack this summer. But while we are primarily interested in protecting forest ecosystems and bull trout critical habitat, we won this case in Ron Mitchell’s memory because he believed it is vitally important to ensure that the federal government honor the separation of powers and the checks and balances ensconced in our Constitution — and right now that’s the only thing keeping Trump from totally destroying America’s national forests and native species.
We would also like to thank Claudia Newman of the Bricklin Newman law firm in Seattle for representing and winning this case for us.
Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.