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Colorado Envtl. Coalition v. Dombeck

Citation: 29 ELR 21406
No. No. 98-1379, 185 F.3d 1162/(10th Cir., 08/09/1999)

The court holds that the U.S. Forest Service complied with the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it issued a permit to a Colorado ski resort for the expansion of a ski area within the White River National Forest. The court first holds that neither NFMA nor 36 C.F.R. § 219.9 (1998) required the Forest Service to collect or evaluate hard data on Canadian lynx populations in the project area before deciding to issue the ski area's permit because no ascertainable lynx population exists within the project area. Where no viable population exists, habitat identification and preservation are a legitimate means of ensuring future lynx viability. The court further holds that because no lynx population exists, the Forest Service need not make a viability determination for the lynx in the project area. Under the circumstances, the Forest Service reasonably used the best available scientific information to identify the parameters of suitable habitat, estimate the suitable habitat in the project area, and determine the proposed action's effects on the habitat in order to distribute habitat for any lynx possibly present in the area.

The court next holds that the Forest Service did not violate 40 C.F.R. § 1502.22(a) (1997) or NEPA when it failed to obtain and analyze all information concerning the lynx because additional, site-specific lynx data is not essential to reasoned decisionmaking. The court then holds that the Forest Service's mitigation analysis of the project satisfied NEPA. The court also holds that the Forest Service took a "hard look" at an adequate array of alternatives. The Forest Service was fully authorized to limit its consideration to expansion alternatives designed to substantially meet the forest plan's recreation development objectives. The court further holds that the Forest Service adequately analyzed the project's direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts. The court next holds that the Forest Service was not required to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement for the project because of alleged new information concerning property adjacent to the project area. The Forest Service reviewed and considered the import of such information and addressed the relevant substantive content of the information in the existing environmental review documents.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Stephen D. Harris
Merrill, Anderson, King & Harris
20 Boulder Crescent, Colorado Springs CO 80903
(719) 633-4421

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

Before Seymour and Henry, JJ.