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Mountain Communities for Fire Safety v. Elliott

ELR Citation: 50 ELR 20129
Nos. 2:19-cv-6539-CAS-AFMx, (C.D. Cal., 05/26/2020) (Snyder, J.)

A district court granted summary judgment for the U.S. Forest Service in a challenge to its approval of a tree-thinning and fire mitigation project in the Los Padres National Forest. Conservation groups and nearby residents argued the Service's decision to authorize the project with a categorical exclusion violated NEPA because the project was not eligible for the exclusion applied—timber stand improvement activities that do not include the use of herbicides or do not require more than one mile of low-standard road construction—and the Service failed to consider the presence of extraordinary circumstances. The court found the Service reasonably interpreted and applied the categorical exclusion to the tree stand thinning activities proposed by the project, and thus concluded that its determination was neither arbitrary nor capricious. It further found the Service analyzed the relevant factors with respect to any extraordinary circumstances and reached a conclusion without any clear error of judgment. Plaintiffs also argued the Service violated the National Forest Management Act by failing to consider aesthetic management standards and the desired conditions guidance set forth in its forest plan, but the court found the Service reasonably concluded the project complied with both the standards and the guidance. It therefore granted summary judgment for the Forest Service.