For Immediate Release, June 30, 2009
||Marc Fink, Center for Biological Diversity, (218) 525-3884
Pete Frost, Western Environmental Law Center, (541) 543-0018
Strike Three: Court Rejects Illegal National Forest Regulations for Third Time
SAN FRANCISCO— A federal court today ruled against the U.S. Forest Service in its third attempt to revise the rules that govern the 193-million acre national forest system. The court found that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act when it revised the regulations in 2008. The court has prohibited the Service from implementing the 2008 rules, and ordered to reinstate either the 1982 or 2000 versions of the regulations.
“Hopefully we can finally close this chapter of the Forest Service and work together with the Obama administration to develop rules that protect our national forests,” stated Marc Fink, attorney for Center for Biological Diversity and one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the case.
During the 1980s and ’90s, the Forest Service operated under nationwide regulations that provided mandatory protection for forest resources, including a requirement to ensure the viability of fish and wildlife species. These regulations governed all proposed projects — such as timber sales, livestock grazing, and road construction — throughout the national forest system. The Forest Service first attempted to weaken these nationwide regulations in 2000, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the agency had violated the National Environmental Policy Act.
Under the Bush administration, the Forest Service attempted to essentially remove all environmental safeguards for our national forests with a new rule in 2005. In March, 2007, however, that rule was found unlawful and enjoined nationwide by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The new 2008 rule was very similar to the 2005 rule, and continued to significantly weaken protection for forest resources, including the elimination of the longstanding requirement to ensure viable populations of fish and wildlife species.
“Hopefully this is the last nail in the coffin for the Bush forest policies,” said attorney Pete Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center.
The Forest Service’s position throughout the near decade of litigation over these rules has been that national regulations have no impact on the environment because they only establish procedures for later decisions. The court today again rejected this position, recognizing the importance of national regulations for all future projects and decisions affecting the national forest system.
“The courts have recognized, now for the third time, that the elimination and weakening of previous standards that protected our national forests for decades will of course result in increased environmental harm to fish, wildlife, and other natural resources in the national forest system,” said Marc Fink of the Center for Biological Diversity.
The 14 plaintiff conservation organizations in the lawsuit are: Citizens for Better Forestry, Environmental Protection Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Wild West Institute, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, Idaho Sporting Congress, Friends of the Clearwater, Utah Environmental Congress, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Wild South, The Lands Council, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, Oregon Wild, and WildEarth Guardians. The conservation groups are represented by Marc Fink and Lisa Belenky of the Center for Biological Diversity and Pete Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center.
A separate lawsuit was filed that challenges the same rule, and was consolidated with the Citizens for Better Forestry case. The plaintiffs in the second case are Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Vermont Natural Resources Council.