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In re Big Thorne Project

ELR Citation: 45 ELR 20056
Nos. 1:14-cv-0013-RRB, (D. Alaska, 03/20/2015) (Beistline, J.)

A district court upheld the U.S. Forest Service's approval of the Big Thorne Project in the Tongass National Forest, thereby allowing the logging of approximately 6,186 acres of old growth forest and construction of 46.1 miles of new Forest Service roads to begin on April 1, 2015. Environmental groups argued that in authorizing the project, the Forest Service violated NEPA, the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), and the 2008 Amended Tongass National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (2008 Forest Plan), but the court rejected all of their claims. The Forest Service's assessment of the timber market demand was reasonable and did not render the approval arbitrary and capricious. Nor did the Forest Service violate NEPA by failing to include wolf population information in the EIS. That information was not included because it was not essential to the decisionmaking process, and the Forest Service adequately explained why it was not considered essential to making a reasoned choice among the alternatives in the Big Thorne EIS. The Forest Service also considered the area's ability to provide sufficient deer habitat to meet both the viability and sustainability of wolf populations, and where that sustainability was not presently possible, the agency appropriately exercised its discretion. Likewise, the Forest Service disclosed and addressed the impacts to the wolf population in a reasonable manner. Nor did the 2008 Forest Plan violate the NFMA or NEPA.