A split Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel has reversed a district court injunction that halted a U.S. Forest Service (FS) plan for logging in an old growth forest area in Oregon. League of Wilderness Defenders-Blue Mountains Bio-Diversity Project v. Allen, No. 09-35094 (9th Cir. 8/13/10). Plaintiffs alleged that the Fire Buttes Project violated the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and NEPA. They argued that the project called for logging within an area that did not comply with NFMA and that the FS environmental impact statement (EIS) did not adequately consider cumulative effects and did not respond to opposing views on logging and the prevention of catastrophic fires.
The district court ruled that the FS record of decision (ROD) on the project “was not strong enough to meet the NWFP [Northwest Forest Plan] requirement that commercial thinning projects focused on older stands must clearly result in greater assurance of long-term maintenance of habitat.” As to the NEPA claim, the district court found that the cumulative impact discussion in the EIS was deficient for lack of detailed, quantitative information about past projects. The district court granted plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, enjoined the FS from any additional logging and remanded the matter to the FS for preparation of a new ROD that complies with NFMA and NEPA. FS appealed.
According to the appeals court, FS determined that logging in the old growth area was (i) permissible under the NFMA after several wildfires had burned several thousand acres in the project area, and (ii) necessary to protect the area from future fires.
The court found that the FS decision process reflected the balancing of risks required under NFMA. As to NEPA, the appeals court held that FS’s analysis was consistent with Council on Environmental Quality guidelines and “adequately considered cumulative effects of past, present and foreseeable future projects in compliance with NEPA.” The dissenting judge agreed with the district court that the project did not comport with NFMA and would have upheld the injunction.