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Idaho Sporting Congress v. Alexander

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20038
Nos. No. 99-35847, 222 F.3d 562/(9th Cir., 08/17/2000) Denial of preliminary injunction rev'd

The court holds that a district court erroneously denied an environmental group's motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the U.S. Forest Service from proceeding with certain timber sales in the Payette National Forest in Idaho. In separate litigation, a district court held that a Forest Service environmental impact statement (EIS) for one individual proposed sale in the forest was inadequate. The group subsequently challenged the sales at issue on the grounds employed in the separate sale, but the district court denied the group's challenge. Nevertheless, the group and the Forest Service agreed to a settlement, which provided that the Forest Service would complete additional environmental documentation of the sales in the form of supplemental information reports (SIRs) examining the need for further environmental review and documentation. The group reserved the right to re-sue, and after publication of SIRs, the group challenged the timber sales alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Forest Management Act. The district court denied the group's motion for a preliminary injunction of the sales.

The court first holds that the district court's denial of the preliminary injunction was based on the erroneous interpretation that the Forest Service can use SIRs, instead of a supplemental EIS or environmental assessment (EA), to reevaluate an EIS or EA. SIRs can be used to determine if new information or changed circumstances require preparation of a supplemental EA or EIS, but they cannot serve as a substitute for a supplemental EA or EIS when an agency determines that new information is significant. In the previous litigation surrounding the separate sale, the Forest Service became aware of new information that should have been addressed in the original EAs and EIS for the sales at issue, not in a subsequent SIR. Further NEPA requires that EAs and EIS be prepared early enough so that they can contribute to the decisionmaking process. Here, the Forest Service did not complete the SIRs at the earliest possible time. The SIRs were prepared in response to litigation, and the public was not given an opportunity to comment. Therefore, the SIRs do not remedy the fact that at the time the Forest Service originally approved the timber sales, it did not have all the necessary information that it was required to consider. The court also holds that the group demonstrated the possibility of irreparable harm. Although the record indicates that a preliminary injunction could present a financial hardship to the Forest Service, intervenors, and communities in and around the forest, this possible financial hardship is outweighed by the fact that the old growth forests the group seeks to protect would, if cut, take hundreds of years to reproduce.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Thomas J. Woodbury
Idaho Sporting Congress Inc.
1103 O'Farrel St., Boise ID 83702
(208) 336-7222

Thomas J. Woodbury
Woodward, Hall & Primm
Chase Tower, Houston TX 77002
(713) 221-3800

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

Before Brunetti and Gould, JJ.