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Friends of the Rapid River v. Probert

ELR Citation: 49 ELR 20198
Nos. 3:18-cv-00465-DCN, (D. Idaho, 12/06/2019) (Nye, J.)

A district court denied environmental groups' motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit concerning the Forest Service's plan for harvesting timber on 2,500 acres in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. The groups argued that the Service exceeded its statutory authority under the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) by approving the expansion of a gravel pit that provided a local source of materials for maintaining roads in the harvesting area. The court found that maintenance, repair, and temporary construction of roads was not as far removed from the purposes of the HFRA as the groups suggested, and that the groups' preference for another source of aggregate—even one the Service itself identified as a viable alternative but for distance and added costs—was not an adequate basis for vacating the Service's plan. The Service demonstrated that its use of the pit for carrying out necessary road maintenance was reasonable and thus fell under the HFRA's "insect or disease" categorical exclusion. The groups also argued that the plan violated the HFRA and NEPA because it failed to maximize the retention of old-growth and large trees, as required by the Service's own plan for the forest. The court found that the groups' preference for a method of identification and prioritization for old-growth retention that differed from the method the Service used did not mean that the Service's procedures were arbitrary and capricious. It therefore upheld the Service's plan.