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Southeast Alaska Conservation Council v. United States Forest Service

ELR Citation: 50 ELR 20057
Nos. 1:19-cv-00006-SLG, (D. Alaska, 03/11/2020) (Gleason, J.)

A district court held that the Forest Service violated NEPA, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) when it authorized timber harvesting in the Tongass National Forest. Environmental groups argued the EIS, which included a condition-based analysis, did not contain enough site-specific information or analysis to comply with NEPA. The court found the EIS did not include a determination or even an estimate of when and where the harvest activities or associated road construction would actually occur, and that the Service's omission of such information fell short of the NEPA requirement that analysis be specific enough to ensure informed decisionmaking and meaningful public participation. It further found that by focusing on the harvest's maximum potential benefits for all alternatives rather than the actual or foreseeable impacts for each alternative, the EIS fell short of NEPA's directive for assessing the probable environmental effects. The groups next argued the EIS violated ANILCA because of its lack of site-specific information. The court found the EIS failed to provide an up-front discussion of actual site-specific impacts or future ANILCA analysis when siting decisions are made, and thus failed to comply with the Act. Finally, the groups also argued the EIS violated the forest plan for the national forest by failing to include timber harvest unit cards corresponding to discrete geographic locations. The court found the omission of unit cards was inconsistent with the plan. It therefore held that the Service violated NEPA, ANCILA, and the NFMA, and gave both parties 21 days to submit legal briefs addressing the proper remedy for the case.