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206-36th St., LLC v. Wick

ELR Citation: 39 ELR 20177
Nos. No. A-4520-07T2, (N.J. Super. Ct., 07/30/2009)

A district court enjoined a timber harvest project in Lassen National Forest until the Forest Service conducts an adequate and sufficient review under NEPA. Environmental groups brought a lawsuit challenging the Forest Service's EA for the project. The group argued that the Service failed to ensure the scientific accuracy and integrity of its analysis in the EA when it used an erroneous maximum stand density index (SDI) value to support the intensity of tree removal it proposed. They argued that this error resulted in an overstatement of the current density of the forest and artificially created a "need" to intensively log medium and large trees from the project area. The court agreed. The Forest Service's erroneous use of data corrupted the scientific accuracy and integrity of its NEPA analysis. Agencies simply do not have the discretion to arbitrarily and capriciously alter a scientifically set value or deviate from a forest planning directive and still comply with NEPA. The Forest Service has not provided a reasoned explanation for its decision to use a limiting-SDI value—the value at which significant mortality from competition and beetles can occur as stands ultimately grow towards their maximum density—when the binding EA provides it will use a maximum-SDI value for thinning. The maximum-SDI value and the limiting-SDI value are not interchangeable, rather they are distinct scientific concepts with fundamental differences. As such, the Forest Service acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it used the limiting-SDI value as the maximum-SDI value in calculating its forest thinning scenarios.