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Utah Envtl. Congress v. Zieroth

Citation: 32 ELR 20535
No. No. 2:01CV217K, 190 F. Supp. 2d 1265/(D. Utah, 03/13/2002)

The court holds that the U.S. Forest Service violated the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) in its approval of a timber salvage project in the Manti-La Sal Forest in Utah, but that the court did not have jurisdiction to review National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) claims brought against the Forest Service by an environmental group. Before approving a forest management plan, and as a way to determine whether the habitat is sufficient for the proposed purposes, the Forest Service identifies management indicator species (MIS) that operate as a class representative for several similar species in the area. In this case, the blue grouse is an MIS identified in the forest plan, and the environmental group claimed that the Forest Service violated the NFMA by approving the project without adequate population data for the blue grouse. The court first holds that contrary to the Forest Service's argument, the proposed project will involve both dead or dying trees and mature trees, thereby putting the viability of the blue grouse population in the project area at risk and necessitating a population assessment in the Forest Service's analysis of the project. The Forest Service failed to provide any documentation or record evidence that the necessary blue grouse population data was not reliable or could not have been reliably collected by the Forest Service. Given the lack of population data, there was no way for the Forest Service to meet the requirements in the NFMA regulations to analyze population trends, and, therefore, the Forest Service's approval of the project without actual or trend population data was contrary to the governing regulations. Thus, the Forest Service's approval of the plan was reversed. The court next holds, however, that the environmental group failed to exhaust its NEPA claims during the administrative appeal process, and, therefore, the court lacks jurisdiction to hear them now.

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (7 pp., ELR Order No. L-476).

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Jack M. Morgan
Manning, Curtis, Bradshaw & Bednar
10 Exchange Pl., 3d Fl., Salt Lake City UT 84111
(801) 363-5678

Counsel for Defendants
Stephen L. Roth
U.S. Attorney's Office
185 South St., Ste. 400, Salt Lake City UT 84111
(801) 524-5682

[OPINION OMITTED BY PUBLISHER IN ORIGINAL SOURCE]