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Alpine Lakes Protection Soc'y v. U.S. Forest Serv.

ELR Citation: 24 ELR 20645
Nos. No. C93-600R, 838 F. Supp. 478/38 ERC 1107/(W.D. Wash., 10/18/1993)

The court holds that the U.S. Forest Service (Forest Service) was required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to consider the connected and cumulative impacts of a timber company's proposed timber-management project and six applications for access-road permits to the company. The Forest Service had concluded that the access road qualified for a categorical exclusion from NEPA's environmental assessment (EA) and environmental impact statement (EIS) requirements. The court first denies the timber company's motion to strike declarations in support of a motion for summary judgment by an environmental organization thatchallenged the Forest Service's action. The court next holds that the Forest Service must consider, in determining whether an EA or EIS is required for the road permit, the impact of the logging activities for which the proposed access road is to be built. Because the sole purpose of the access road is to facilitate the timber company's management activities, the road and timber project are connected actions. The court holds that the Forest Service's decision not to consider the connected actions on the basis that by itself the access road qualified for a categorical exclusion was arbitrary and capricious. The court holds that the Forest Service's failure to consider whether there is the potential for any cumulative impact of the six additional proposed access roads was also arbitrary and capricious. The record supports the conclusion that the seven projects at issue are cumulative. The biological assessment prepared by the Forest Service and expert testimony illustrate the projects' potential cumulative impact on wildlife and other aspects of the environment, including area recreation, water quality, fisheries, and erosion. The court also notes that the projects are similar in both timing and geographical proximity. Finally, the court holds that the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act's requirement that the Forest Service grant reasonable access to inholders across national forest lands does not preclude compliance with NEPA's requirement that the Forest Service consider environmental impacts in determining what access is reasonable.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Victor M. Sher
Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund
705 Second Ave., Ste. 203, Seattle WA 98104
(206) 343-7340

Counsel for Defendants
Robert M. Taylor, Ass't U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
3600 Sea-First Plaza Bldg.
800 5th Ave., Seattle WA 98104
(206) 553-7970