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Sierra Club v. Martin

Citation: 29 ELR 20569
(02/18/1999)

The court holds that the U.S. Forest Service arbitrarily and capriciously approved seven timber sales in the Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forests in Georgia. The court first holds that the Forest Service's failure to gather population inventory data on proposed, endangered, threatened, or sensitive (PETS) species of plant or animals occurring or with the potential to occur within the project area violates the forest plan and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). The forest plan states that when adequate population inventory information is unavailable and the site has a high potential for occupancy by PETS species, then the Forest Service must gather that information. The Forest Service admits that the project areas contain PETS species, but it maintains that its data, though devoid of any information as to some PETS species, remain adequate to assess potential forestwide impact on the species. However, the information that the Forest Service deems adequate is in reality no information at all in terms of many PETS species.

The court next holds that the Forest Service's failure to gather inventory data on management indicator species (MIS) violates 36 C.F.R. §§ 219.19 and 219.26. Sections 219.19 and 219.26 require the Forest Service to gather quantitative data on MIS and use it to measure the impact of habitat changes on the forest's diversity. The proposed timber projects amount to 2,000 acres of habitat change. Despite this extensive habitat change and the fact that some MIS populations in the forest are actually declining, the Forest Service has no population data for one-half of the MIS in the forest and, thus, cannot reliably gauge the impact of the timber projects on these species.

[Prior decisions in this litigation are published at 27 ELR 20152 and 28 ELR 21212.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Donald D.J. Stack
Stack & Associates
100 Peachtree St. NW, Atlanta GA 30303
(404) 525-9205

Counsel for Defendants
Mark R. Haag
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Birch and Alaimo,* JJ.