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Cutting Science, Ecology, and Transparency Out of National Forest Management: How the Bush Administration Uses the Judicial System to Weaken Environmental Laws

December 2003

Citation: ELR 10959

Author: John M. Carter, Mike Leahy, and William J. Snape III

The Defenders of Wildlife Judicial Accountability Project—undertaken with the assistance of the Vermont Law School Clinic for Environmental Law and Policy—seeks to fill a data void on the environmental record of President George W. Bush and his Administration by analyzing all reported environmental cases in which the Bush Administration has presented legal arguments regarding an existing environmental law, regulation, or policy before federal judges, magistrates, or administrative tribunals. By examining judicial decisions and legal briefs for federal cases, the aim is to identify quantifiable trends on whether, or to what degree, President Bush and members of his Administration are working to preserve, protect, and defend the U.S. Constitution and laws of the United States as sworn in their oaths of office.

The focus of this Article is the laws, regulations, and rules that govern the management of national forests. The National Forest System is composed of 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands. These lands cover roughly 8% of the country, 191 million acres in 42 states. They provide a wide range of values and services, including vital wildlife habitats, ecosystem services like clean water and air, irreplaceable recreation opportunities, and timber and nontimber resources. The National Forest System includes a wide range of natural plant and animal communities, including some of the most significant and important examples of native ecosystems. More than 17% of federally threatened and endangered species and over 25% of species not federally listed but recognized by scientists as imperiled reside on national forests, more than on any other category of federal lands. In addition to providing necessary habitat for rare species, national forests support populations of many more common species, providing an opportunity to assure their long-term viability through proper forest management. National forests are particularly important for species such as wolves, grizzly bears, elk, lynx, wolverines, and migratory birds that require large and relatively intact blocks of habitat.

John M. Carter is the Judicial Accountability Fellow at Defenders of Wildlife. Carter graduated from the University of the South with a B.A. in Philosophy. He attended law school at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, receiving his J.D. with honors in 1997. Following his admission to the Kansas bar, Carter commenced a solo practice devoted to promoting environmental and rural issues. After prevailing in a Kansas Supreme Court appeal and preventing the establishment of large-scale swine-concentrated animal-feeding operations in two Kansas counties, Carter wound up his Kansas practice to hike the Appalachian Trail and continue his legal education at Vermont Law School. He received his LL.M. degree in Environmental Law from Vermont Law School, summa cum laude. Carter has published articles on the treatment of nonpoint sources under the Clean Water Act, current trends in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) litigation, and the Bush Administration's legal and extralegal attempts to rewrite national forest policy.

Mike Leahy is Natural Resources Counsel for the Defenders of Wildlife, focusing on litigation and policy related to species and habitat conservation on public lands. He was formerly Forest Campaign Director for the National Audubon Society. He has a J.D. and a B.S. in Natural Resources.

William J. (Bill) Snape III, is vice president and chief counsel at Defenders of Wildlife, a biodiversity advocacy group with approximately one million members and supporters, dedicated to protecting plants and animals in their native ecosystems. In this capacity, he oversees all domestic and international legal programs, provides legal counsel on all program policy, and directs the organization's litigation before various courts and tribunals. Snape is the author of numerous articles on natural resources policy, and is the editor of BIODIVERSITY AND THE LAW (Island Press 1996). Snape has taught at several law schools, including American University, Georgetown University, George Washington University, and the University of Pennsylvania. Snape is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, with a B.A. in History, magna cum laude, and received his J.D. from George Washington University, where he was president of the Environmental Law Society. He serves on the board for the U.S. Endangered Species Coalition, where he is president and chairman, the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources, and Wild Canada. Net.

This is the second Article of the Judicial Accountability Project to appear in ELR's News & Analysis. The first, Weakening NEPA: How the Bush Administration Uses the Judicial System to Weaken Environmental Protections, 33 ELR 10682 (July 2003), detailed the Bush Administration's attempts to weaken NEPA in federal court litigation.

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