See coverage of this issue in Counterpunch here:
November 15, 2019
Contact: Mike Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies 406 459-5936
Conservation groups sue Forest Service for ignoring court order stopping 85,000 acre Payette Forest Logging and Burning Project
“The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in August of 2018 ruled in favor of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Idaho Sporting Congress, and Native Ecosystems Council in our challenge to a massive Forest Service logging project,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “The Court ordered the Forest Service to stop all activities on the Lost Creek-Boulder Creek Timber sale in the Payette National Forest because the agency was violating its own Forest Plan. Yet now, ignoring the Court’s order, the Forest Service has issued a new decision notice and intends to allow the project to go forward and so we are once again challenging that in court.”
“It seems almost unbelievable, but the new Lost Creek-Boulder Creek decision by the Forest Service basically tells the Ninth Circuit the agency has no intention of complying with the Court’s order and intends to log approximately 40,000 acres and burn 45,000 more acres in the New Meadows Ranger District,” Garrity explained. “It’s especially important because Boulder Creek is a tributary to the Little Salmon River and the headwaters of the West Fork of the Weiser River and the area is designated Critical Habitat for bull trout recovery.”
The Forest Plan
The Payette Forest Plan guides natural resource management activities on lands administered by the Payette National Forest. It provides forest-wide, long-term management direction in the form of goals, objectives, standards, and guidelines designed to guide land and species management activities in the Payette National Forest.
Last year, in Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. United States Forest Serv., 907 F.3d 1105, 1109 (9th Cir. 2018), the Ninth Circuit held, in the clearest possible terms, that the Lost Creek Boulder Creek Landscape Restoration Project was inconsistent with the Payette Forest Plan and ordered that the Forest Service decision approving that Project be vacated. “Defendants are now moving forward with the project in disregard of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion and mandate,” said Claudia Newman, the lawyer who litigated that case on behalf of Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Idaho Sporting Congress, and Native Ecosystems Council.
The Ninth Circuit Court held that the Forest Service’s decision to approve the Lost Creek-Boulder Creek Project was “arbitrary and capricious” and “constituted a violation of the National Forest Management Act.” Specifically, the Court held that the Forest Service had proposed to manage the forest in a manner that was clearly inconsistent with the Payette Forest Plan and that the agency had improperly adopted a new definition of “old forest habitat” for the Lost Creek Project area. The panel instructed the district court to vacate the Forest Service’s September 2014 Record of Decision and send the proposal back to the Forest Service to comply with the law and Forest Plan.
New Decision Bad for Taxpayers and the Constitution
“The Forest Service estimated that the commercial logging will cost taxpayers a whopping $12,429,619, and the entire project will lose nearly $22 million,” Garrity explained. “In essence, the Forest Service decided it was more important to subsidize the timber industry with this huge money-losing timber sale in federally-designated bull trout Critical Habitat than it is to comply with the Federal Court’s order.
“But the undeniable fact is that Federal Court decisions are binding on the Forest Service. Unfortunately the Trump administration has a record of deciding it doesn’t have to follow the U.S. Constitution or Federal Court orders. The Forest Service’s approval of the 2019 Lost Creek-Boulder Creek Project is in direct defiance of, is inconsistent with, and is in disregard of the Ninth Circuit opinion and mandate,” Garrity concluded. “We have little choice except to take the Forest Service back to court, especially considering the horrific precedent ignoring the Court sets for other illegal actions by federal agencies. While we are primarily interested in protecting forest ecosystems and bull trout critical habitat, this case is also vitally important to ensure that the federal government must honor the separation of power and the checks and balances of the Judiciary ensconced in the U.S. Constitution.”
Please find a copy of our Complaint and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals August 2018 Opinion attached.