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Idaho Sporting Congress v. Rittenhouse

ELR Citation: 33 ELR 20031
Nos. No. 01-35403, 305 F.3d 957/(9th Cir., 09/17/2002)

The court holds that two U.S. Forest Service (Forest Service) timber sales in the Boise National Forest in Idaho violated the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Environmental groups brought suit against the Forest Service seeking to enjoin the sales, but the district court held that the groups failed to administratively exhaust some of their claims and that claim preclusion barred their remaining claims due to a previous case between the parties. The court first holds that the groups' claims were not barred by claim preclusion and the claims were administratively exhausted. The prior case between the parties did not address claims identical to the claims presented. Likewise, although the groups failed to clearly express all of their claims at the administrative level, they clearly expressed concern about the proposed sales and their impact on the pileated woodpecker. It would be unreasonable to require the groups to express the exact language of the statute allegedly violated in order to qualify for administrative exhaustion. The court further holds that the Forest Service approval of the timber sales violated the NFMA because when the sales were approved, the Boise National Forest forest plan did not comply with the 36 C.F.R. §219.19 requirements that wildlife habitat be managed to maintain existing native and desired non-native species. Specifically, the forest plan's standard for maintaining the viability of old growth-dependent species was invalid; the Forest Service failed to comply with the standard by failing to rededicate acres of old growth lost to fire; and the Forest Service failed to ensure that compartments of timber identified as containing old growth actually did contain old growth. The Forest Service's attempt to save the sales by using a new definition of "old growth" fails because the forest plan does not include the new definition and the forest must be managed according to its plan. Moreover, the court holds that the Forest Service may not use evaluation of timber habitat alone as a proxy for monitoring wildlife population or management indicator species. The Forest Service's monitoring reports indicate that the evaluation of habitat as a proxy does not reasonably ensure viable species populations. In addition, the court holds that the Forest Service violated NEPA because the environmental impact statement (EIS) for one timber sale was inadequate. The EIS failed to justify the choice of scale it used to conduct a cumulative effects analysis with respect to a number of indicator species. Therefore, the court enjoins the timber sales until they comply with the NFMA and NEPA.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Thomas J. Woodbury
Woodard, Hill & Primm
600 Travis St., Houston TX 77002
(713) 221-3800

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