Monday, February 9, 2009

Sierra Club v. Wagner (USDA)

Feb 6: In the U.S Court of Appeals, First Circuit, Case No. 08-1978. The Sierra Club, along with two other conservation groups including Center for Biological Diversity and Wilderness Society (Sierra Club), challenged the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Forest Service's approval of two forest resource management projects in the White Mountain National Forest (Forest or WMNF) -- the Than Forest Resource Management Project (Than Project) and the Batchelder Brook Vegetation Management Project (Batchelder Project). The district court decision, upheld the Forest Service.

Following adoption of a 2005 plan for the forest that included "inventoried roadless areas" (IRAs), the Forest Service proposed to allow timber harvesting of approximately 929 acres in the Than project, creating up to 231 acres of early successional habitat. The proposal would allow some existing roads to receive maintenance or reconstruction, and a 500 foot section of new road was planned. In an environmental assessment indicating certain possible adverse effects of the Than Project on the Wild River Inventoried Roadless Area -- including sediment inputs to streams, some soil disturbance, and effects on stream temperature -- the Forest Service concluded that the project would not significantly alter the character of the area or the qualities which qualified it for inclusion in the inventory. A similar finding was delivered for the Batchelder project. The groups requested a stay pending appeal which was denied by the Appeals Court, but the Appeals Court expedited the case.

The Appeals Court affirmed the district court decision and concluded, ". . . the evident intent to allow public comment on FONSI [Finding of No Significant Impact] findings seems to have been satisfied here in spades. An agency that adopts a FONSI without seeking input can be expected at least to accept comments before acting on the merits of a decision; but here both EAs were circulated in draft form and comments solicited even before any FONSI was finally adopted. Why this does not satisfy the purpose of the thirty day rule Sierra Club does not explain."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).