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Idaho Sporting Congress v. Thomas

ELR Citation: 28 ELR 21044
Nos. 97-35339, 137 F.3d 1146/46 ERC 1465/(9th Cir., 03/04/1998, 05/13/1998)

The court holds that the U.S. Forest Service failed to meet National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements for public disclosure of information and failed to take a hard look at the effects of proposed timber sales from the Miners Creek and West Camas Creek drainages in the Targhee National Forest in Idaho. The court first holds that a 1990 water quality report used to prepare the environmental assessment (EA) was not a hard look at water quality issues. The 1990 report alone does not satisfy NEPA's reporting and notice requirements because it fails to provide the public with a basis for evaluating the impact of the proposed sale. NEPA requires that the public receive the underlying environmental data from which a Forest Service expert derived his or her opinion. The court also holds that the Forest Service cannot rely on a 1985 water quality report as an adequate backup to the 1990 report. The scope of the 1985 report differs from that of the 1990 report, and there are factual differences between the logging done in 1985 and the proposed logging under the timber sale. The court next holds that an environmental impact statement (EIS) is necessary to explore the substantial questions in respect to whether and what significant effects the sale may have.

The court further holds that the EA does not adequately disclose the existence of a management indicator species, trout, within the boundaries of the sale area and provides no analysis for the public to review. Therefore, the court holds that the EIS the Forest Service must prepare should address the potential effects of sediment on the two creeks. The court also holds that the EIS to be conducted by the Forest Service should address any inadequacy in the analysis of cumulative impacts. The court next holds that the standard for judging the quality of the water under Idaho law is the federal standard—water quality necessary to preserve existing uses. However, until further studies are completed on the two streams, the court lacks sufficient facts to determine whether Idaho's antidegradation statute has been violated. The court then holds that under the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), the Forest Service's decision to use habitat as a proxy for fish populations is not arbitrary and capricious. Upon reevaluation of water quality issues under an EIS, the Forest Service can use habitat to satisfy NFMA requirements if it demonstrates no appreciable habitat disturbance from sediment entering the streams from the proposed timber harvest. The court finally holds that the Forest Service should address in an EIS the adequacy of the habitat maintained.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Marc D. Fink
Law Offices of Marc D. Fink
P.O. Box 2071, Sisters OR 97759
(541) 549-1933

Counsel for Defendants
Nicholas J. Woychick
Law Offices of Nicholas J. Woychick
877 Main St., Ste. 1000, Boise ID 83702
(208) 344-6000

Before O'Scannlain and Schwarzer,* JJ.