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Some success stories from Conservation Congress
It takes time to bring about change on National Forest lands. When Conservation Congress started back in 2004 the Shasta Trinity NF was the largest timber producing forest in the entire state. For example, in 2007 the Shasta Trinity logged 74 million board feet of timber. Conservation Congress’ work has resulted in that amount dropping to 22 million board feet in 2009 and staying in the 20 and 30 million board feet range ever since with the exception of 2011. This is a huge reduction in the amount of timber being logged. We have had equal success on the Mendocino NF. In 2013, this forest sold 12 million board feet of timber but because of our successful lawsuits that amount has dropped to less than 1 million board feet of timber in 2017.
Public participation works and we have a variety of tools to work with including field trips with Forest Service staff, comments, appeals/objections and lawsuits. These are our public lands and we have a responsibility to provide a voice for the voiceless animals, forests and water that can’t speak for themselves. We also have a responsibility to hold the Forest Service accountable to federal environmental laws.
Below are some of the lawsuits we have won to stop timber sales in important wildlife habitat and to protect the rights of public participation. In total we have filed 10 lawsuits over Northern spotted owls and in each and every one we have forced the Forest Service to re-consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service on impacts to this species and its habitat. In addition to these victories we also won the following.
2018 - We filed two lawsuits on three timber sales in the Modoc National Forest: the Cove Fire Salvage on the Big Valley Ranger District, and the Lassen 15 and Joseph Creek projects in the Warner Mountains. Cove Salvage involves issues on Northern goshawks, Modoc sucker, and cumulative impacts. Lassen 15 and Joseph Creek also involve Northern goshawks and cumulative effects, as well as livestock grazing and old growth. Stay tuned for further updates.
2017 - On Friday, February 17, 2017 Judge Mendez in the Eastern District of California ruled in favor of Conservation Congress’ lawsuit against the Smokey timber sale on the Mendocino National Forest. We filed this lawsuit 3 ½ years ago and the area was never logged so this is a big victory for the Northern spotted owls and other animals that call this beautiful forest home. Judge Mendez’s Order opened with this quote: And yesterday the bird of night did sit Even at noon-day upon the marketplace Hooting and shrieking.- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, act 1, sc. 2. Indeed, we hope the spotted owls of the night were hooting and shrieking in victory! The Smokey timber sale area is significant in that the vast majority of the project is in a Late-Successional Reserve and designated critical habitat for the Northern spotted owl. The Forest Service proposed logging a whopping 6,400 acres; one of the largest timber sales ever developed on the Mendocino National Forest. The Judge stated the Forest Service violated NEPA because of an inadequate range of alternatives; inconsistent Limited Operating Periods (time periods where logging can’t occur to protect the owl); failure to address past monitoring practices (no surveys for owls); and failure to take the requisite “hard look” at the project. Our sincere thanks to attorney Steve Sugarman who represented Conservation Congress; Doug Bevington of Environment Now that funded the litigation; and spotted owl biologists Tonja Chi and Monica Bond who work tirelessly from the heart to protect these beautiful raptors.
The lawsuit also forced the Forest Service to re-consult with the US Fish & Wildlife Service multiple times, resulting in the establishment of two new Activity Centers for the spotted owl. One of those Activity Centers had a pair of owls that successfully fledged one chick in 2016. The Forest Service had inaccurately designated this area as foraging habitat instead of nesting habitat so that it could be logged easier using less stringent guidelines. It also misrepresented the critical habitat claiming it was marginal habitat that needed logging to “improve” it when the reality is the area has many large old growth tress providing excellent owl habitat.
2014 – We filed a lawsuit against the Shasta Trinity NF over the Bagley timber sale which was a very large post-fire salvage sale in Northern spotted owl critical habitat, late-successional reserve (areas set aside for the conservation of habitat for old growth dependent species like the owl), and a roadless area. All three of these areas require an analysis in a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement, but the FS only did a lesser Environmental Assessment. The FS also requested an “Emergency Situation Determination” or ESD for this project meaning the public could not file an administrative Objection over any illegalities. The regulations for ESDs clearly state that when they are granted the only recourse for the public is to go straight to court and Objections are required to be filed. So that’s what we did and the FS claimed we didn’t follow proper procedure by filing an Objection first. The Supreme Court has already decided this issue in our favor and that is what the Court said in its decision. So we won the first round and the project is still in litigation. Ironically the FS claimed the burned trees were a public safety threat and trees might fall down on cars driving the roads. First, 90% of the roads in the project area are not open to cars; and second the FS opened the road closure it had implemented for the hunters during hunting season!
2014 – We won a lawsuit against the Mendocino NF on the Mill Fire Salvage timber sale. This was a very large post-fire project. The Forest Service claimed since the trees burned the forest was no longer proving owl habitat so it was ok to log it. There is a lot of new science that proves owls will use burned trees for habitat, especially to forage in and even nest in. The FS failed to consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the Northern spotted owl and its critical habitat. They also failed to take the “hard look” that NEPA requires for cumulative impacts. This area has had a lot of logging and the FS is supposed to consider the impacts of all the timber sales combined on owl habitat. The court stated the FS violated the Endangered Species Act and ordered the FS to complete a more extensive Environmental Impact Statement before proceeding with this project.
2013 – We won a lawsuit against the Mendocino NF on the Tatham timber sale. This large project that was over 7,000 acres was partially in designated critical habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl. Critical habitat is set aside for recovery of the owl – that is its primary function. Yet the Forest Service planned this project using a short cut environmental analysis called a Categorical Exclusion, meaning they did not conduct the analyses required for logging in a threatened species habitat. The Court imposed an injunction on the project and told the Forest Service it could not implement the project until it prepared documentation under the NEPA that was legally adequate.
2010 - We filed a 60-Day Notice of Intent to Sue under the Endangered Species Act against the Shasta Trinity National Forest for failing to protect and conserve Northern Spotted Owls and their habitat. This 60-Day Notice of Intent led the Forest Service to complete required biological monitoring reports, including the harmful impacts to habitat from logging and the takings of individual owls for a fifteen year time span during which the Forest had failed to report these harms.
2008- We won a lawsuit against the Shasta Trinity NF over the Pilgrim timber sale. This was the largest timber sale on the Forest at the time and it include owl habitat as well as habitat for migratory birds like the red-breasted nuthatch. It was also important habitat for deer. The court found the Forest Service failed to properly analyze the logging impacts to these specie’s habitat. It was a decisive victory that caused the Forest Service to conduct more thorough wildlife analyses for Management Indicator Species.
2005 - In 2005, the Conservation Congress filed a lawsuit against the Shasta-Trinity National Forest over three timber sales: the Eagle Ranch, Edson, and Powder projects. We argued the Shasta-Trinity NF violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by limiting public comment on all three of these projects. The Court agreed and stopped these projects from going forward.
The court found that although NEPA regulations do not require circulation of a draft Environmental Assessment (EA), they do require that the public be given as much environmental information as is practicable, prior to completion of the EA. "Of course, to be on the safe side, the agency can never go wrong by releasing a draft EA, and supporting documents, as was the practice until recently."
In each of the projects we litigated, the Forest Service failed to give the public an adequate pre-decisional opportunity for informed comment. The scoping notices for the Eagle Ranch, Powder, and Edson projects similarly contained no analysis of the environmental impacts of the projects. The Court stated:
"Moreover, what is striking for all three of these projects is the agency's withholding of already-prepared environmental documents even though the documents were completed before the end of the public comment period. The Forest Service had completed parts of the environmental review for the Eagle Ranch, Powder, and Edson projects before the public scoping periods were initiated. In the case of the Eagle Ranch project, the Forest Service had already completed the EA before the end of the comment period. Yet the Forest Service provides no explanation as to why these documents could not have been released to the public when completed or, at the very least, been discussed and summarized in the public scoping notice. This failure to provide essential information, already in the hands of the agency, does not comply with the agency's requirement of involving the public `to the extent practicable'."
The Court granted an injunction on all three projects. This was a significant victory for public input and citizen involvement in the Forest Service decision-making process. This case set a legal precedent in the Eastern District of CA and the Forest Service must now provide draft documents to the public prior to releasing a final decision.