A ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this week on a Big Hole Valley timber sale is being hailed by environmental groups as a precedent-setting decision.
Susan Brown, a staff attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center, said the ruling is important because it defines at what point environmental groups may stop federal projects. The issue surrounded a logging project about 15 miles west of Wisdom by the U.S. Forest Service.
Brown’s group filed a lawsuit against the Beaverhead/Deerlodge National Forest on behalf of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council seeking a temporary injunction to stop the logging, but U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy had refused to issue it. He was overruled by the Ninth Circuit, which allowed the preliminary injunction in June of 2010, but by that time the plaintiffs said half of the sale already had been logged.
In a new ruling issued this week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals defined at what point environmental groups may stop federal projects, saying citizens can get injunctions to temporarily stop government actions while a case is being heard.
“We contended that the Rat Creek Timber Sale violated the National Forest Management Act by moving forward with logging before addressing dozens of appeals that were filed against the project,” said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Helena-based Alliance. “This landmark precedent is vitally important.”
Brown said the issue clarifies a Supreme Court ruling in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, in which the Court refused to grant plaintiffs an injunction against the U.S. Navy’s use of sonar off the California coast. In that case, the Supreme Court allowed Navy maneuvers to continue despite plaintiffs’ contention that such use was causing damage to whales and other sea mammals.
Garrity added that it’s not just his environmental group that benefits from the ruling.
“Right now we have farmers and ranchers fighting proposed transmission lines to export power from Montana,” he said. “This ruling preserves the right of all citizens to request a preliminary injunction to stop construction before the damage is done.”