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Thomas v. Peterson

Citation: 14 ELR 20832
No. No. 82-2056, 589 F. Supp. 1139/21 ERC 1275/(D. Idaho, 05/21/1984)

The court rules that the Forest Service substantially complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Forest Roads and Trils Act (NFRTA), and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) in deciding to build a logging road in the Nezperce National Forest. The court first addresses the claim of a NEPA violation, reviewing the Forest Service's decision not to prepare an environmental impact statement under a reasonableness standard. Upon review of the administrative record, the court concludes that the Forest Service took a hard look at the proposed road and reasonably concluded that its impacts would not be significant. Neither the Forest Service's failure to discuss an associated quarry, the project's controversial nature, nor the project's effects on sedimentation and elk habitat require the Forest Service to take a more detailed look. The court also rejects plaintiffs' argument that the decision to build the road was actually a decision to log the area and should have been analyzed accordingly. No logging plans are presently firm.

The court rules that the Forest Service did violate the ESA by failing to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) about possible effects of the road on the Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf. However, plaintiffs have failed to prove that FWS would have provided the Forest Service with any information triggering additional duties under the ESA.In fact, the Forest Service has undertaken independent wildlife studies that have satisfied the goals of the ESA. Therefore, the Forest Service actions were not arbitrary and capricious.

The court next rejects arguments that the 1981 amendments to the NFMA and NFRTA require roads to cost less than potential timber revenues from the lands they serve. The court construes the amendments to reflect concern with road financing methods but not to require that all roads turn a profit. Finally, the court holds that despite the road's proximity to a protected river, the Forest Service satisfied the WSRA by discussing potential sedimentation in its environmental assessment and promising to use mitigation techniques.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Michael Axline
Pacific Northwest Resources Clinic
School of Law, U. of Oregon, Eugene OR 97403
(503) 686-3823

Counsel for Defendant
Jeffery W. Ring; William R. Van Hole, U.S. Attorney
Box 037, 550 W. Fort St., Boise ID 83724
(208) 334-1211

Counsel for Defendants-Intervenors
Runft, Stecher, Coffin, Adlard & O'Riordan
P.O. Box 1960, Boise ID 83701
(208) 344-6100