Environmental Groups Sue Over Project in the Boise National Forest

Monday marked the filing of a suit in the District of Idaho against defendants Tawnya Brummett (Boise National Forest Supervisor), Randy Moore (Chief of the United States Forest Service), and the United States Forest Service by plaintiffs Wildlands Defense, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Native Ecosystems Council, and Yellowstone to Uintas Connection. The complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief was filed in response to a decision notice made regarding the Sage Hen Integrated Restoration Project (the Sage Hen Project, or the project).

The complaint was filed to challenge the Sage Hen Integrated Restoration Project (the Sage Hen Project) Decision Notice, which was signed by defendant Brummett in April. It also challenges the project’s associated Environmental Assessment, its accompanying Finding of No Significant Impact, the Forest Service’s Biological Assessment, and lastly the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion and Concurrence.

According to the decision made concerning the Sage Hen Project, logging projects will be authorized over 19,900 acres of the Boise National Forest. Further, the decision outlines 11,200 acres that “could receive hazardous fuels reduction and non-commercial thinning.” The effects of the decision will play out in an area that is designated as critical habitat for bull trout, which has been protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1999.

The plaintiffs assert their belief that the Forest Service is “attempting to authorize any and all of these activities throughout nearly the entire Project area.” They add that the project lacks organization, as any treatment can be applied to any area in which the Project is already underway and cannot be challenged by the public, as the objection period has passed. The plaintiffs claim that “this action essentially takes a knife to the heart of NEPA’s (National Environmental Policy Act) protections regarding public participation in agency action.”

The plaintiffs also posit that the decision and its supporting documents constitute express violations of NEPA due to the defendant’s failure to prepare an EIS, or Environmental Impact Statement. The defendants claim that they do not consider the Sage Hen Project to be a “major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment,” which the plaintiffs reject based on the sheer size, scale, and timing of the project. The defendants have provided that the Sage Hen Project will be monitored by condition-based management. The plaintiffs argue that this essentially means that “the Forest Service authorized the Project before identifying specific locations” for their activities, an approach which does not meet NEPA requirements.

Ultimately, the decision and its supporting documents were determined to be inadequate by the plaintiffs because they do not identify the actions that the Forest Service will take for the project, they do not detail the vegetation and wildlife that will be affected, they do not describe the anticipated impacts of the proposed landscape-scale vegetation treatment, and lastly, they do not detail planned mitigation measures. They also believe that the public was deprived of a proper time period by which to comment on the Project.

The Sage Hen Project will allegedly have widespread negative effects, including “vegetative and biological communities that will be harmed by the logging, forest thinning, and burning activities.” Further, the plaintiffs maintain that “native species will suffer extreme habitat loss due to the Project, and the prescribed burns across most of the Snowbank Inventoried Roadless Area will cause irreversible impacts to wildlife.”

The complaint cites violations of NEPA and APA, failure to prepare an EIS, failure to disclose and analyze environmental impacts and failure to consider project alternatives. The plaintiffs are seeking favorable judgements on the NEPA and APA violations, an order reversing the project under claims that it is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with the law, an order requiring the defendants to comply with NEPA and APA in all aspects, preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, litigations fees, and any other relief deemed proper by the Court.

The plaintiffs are represented by Brian Ertz.