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Idaho Conservation League v. U.S. Forest Service

ELR Citation: 46 ELR 20121
Nos. 1:16-CV-0025-EJL, (D. Idaho, 07/11/2016) (Lodge, J.)

A district court held that the U.S. Forest Service violated NEPA in connection with its approval of the "CuMo" project, a five-year mining exploration project located within the Boise National Forest in Idaho. The Forest Service failed to take a hard look at the project's impacts on the Sacajawea’s bitterroot, a rare small, groundhugging perennial herb endemic to the mountains of central Idaho with 80% of the known populations existing in the Boise National Forest. Specifically, the Service failed to reexamine the species' baseline population in the project area following a 2014 fire. Instead of compiling and analyzing the updated data it acknowledged is needed to accurately evaluate the project’s impacts on the plant, the Service proposed undertaking the data collection and evaluation as part of the project itself. This approach improperly postpones the analysis required by NEPA until the project has already been approved and started. And without an accurate baseline, the project’s monitoring and mitigation measures will not be effective or accurate. The court therefore vacated the Forest Service's FONSI with regard to the Sacajawea’s bitterroot. On remand, the Service must reevaluate the species' baseline population and then determine whether the project’s activities will have a significant impact such that an EIS is required or whether a FONSI is sufficient. For the same reason, the court held that the Forest Service violated the National Forest Management Act. But the court found no fault with the project’s proposed design features, monitoring measures, and mitigation with respect to the plant. And the Forest Service satisfied NEPA with regard to groundwater concerns.