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Idaho Conservation League v. U.S. Forest Service

ELR Citation: 50 ELR 20009
Nos. 1:18-CV-504-BLW, (D. Idaho, 12/18/2019) (Winmill, J.)

A district court granted in part and denied in part a motion for summary judgment in a challenge to the U.S. Forest Service's approval of a mining company's permit to explore for gold in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Environmental groups first argued that the Forest Service violated NEPA by failing to take a hard look at the impacts of the mining on grizzly bears. The court found that the agency closely examined the impacts on grizzly bear habitat and numbers. The groups next argued that the Service failed to take a hard look at the impacts of the mining on groundwater quality. The court found that the agency never addressed in its EA whether the company's lack of groundwater monitoring in the area where mining would occur was proper, and thus failed to take the required hard look at the impacts on groundwater quality in that area. The groups also argued that the Forest Service failed to examine the impacts of the mining on the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, a sensitive species native to the mining area and surrounding watersheds. The court found that because the Service did not conduct a baseline study of the area's hydrogeologic features and was not requiring any groundwater monitoring there, the agency did not know whether mining would cause contaminated water to flow into a creek inhabited by the trout, it thus failed to take a hard look at species impacts, as required by NEPA. The court therefore granted in part and denied in part the groups' motion for summary judgment, and remanded to the Forest Service to take the required hard look at the impacts of the mining on groundwater and the Yellowstone cutthroat trout.