Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sierra Forest Legacy v. Rey (U.S. Forest Service)

May 14: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 07-16892. Sierra Forest Legacy (Sierra Forest) appeals the decision of the district court denying a preliminary injunction against the United States Forest Service (the USFS or the Forest Service) in a suit challenging its decision to permit logging in accordance with changes made in 2004 by the USFS in the relevant forest plan. Many other parties have intervened on each side. The Attorney General of California, Edmund Brown, Jr., filed an amicus brief in support of Sierra Forest. The Appeals Court held that the district court abused its discretion and reversed and remanded the case.

The Appeals Court says that the "USFS acknowledges that its reason for selling the forest trees to commercial loggers is to raise funds to carry on its fire prevention duties. Sierra Forest and the State of California seek to preserve the larger trees and so to preserve the habitat that supports various species. We need decide here a limited and narrow issue: Does the 2004 SEIS prepared by USFS regarding its plans to sell off the forest trees comply with the requirements of NEPA?"

In its conclusion, the Appeals Court says, "Postponement of the Forest Service plans may increase the danger posed by fires; but the Forest Service and Congress do not appear helpless to find the funds to decrease the dangers. The question we address here is whether USFS’s choice of funding for fire reduction -- rather than fire reduction itself -- outweighs California’s preservation interests. We conclude that it does not, given that 'special solicitude' should be afforded California’s stake in its natural resources and that the Forest Service did not consider alternatives to its choice of funding."

Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the conservation groups said, "The Ninth Circuit understood that the old-growth logging at issue here may turn a profit, but will not make the Sierra any safer if there's a fire. We desperately need the Forest Service to turn its attention away from the big trees and back to Sierra communities."

Access the complete opinion (click here). Access a release from Earthjustice (click here).