A coalition of conservation groups represented by Earthjustice sued in federal court today to overturn the Bush administration's latest attempt to weaken rules governing management of America's 155 national forests and grasslands. The new rules, issued April 21, repeal key protections for national forests.
The Bush administration rule being challenged mirrors one issued in 2005 which was thrown out by a federal court. Like the 2005 rule, the current one eliminates mandatory protections in place since the Reagan administration that require the national forests to be managed to guarantee viable wildlife populations, to preserve clean, healthy streams and lakes, and to protect diverse natural forests. The Bush rule also sharply reduces public participation in decisions about the management of our public forests.
Prior forms of the rule from 1982 and 2000 contained enforceable standards for forest plans that protected wildlife, water, and the forests. The earlier rules also provided opportunities for public involvement and required analysis of environmental impacts of forest plans on the national forests, impacts that result from plan decisions regarding logging levels and other extractive uses of forest resources.
Earthjustice attorney Trent Orr said, "This is the Bush administration's parting gift to the timber industry. These regulations remove vital checks and balances on logging while minimizing the role of science and the public's say in maintaining wildlife and other natural resources. We've returned to court to insure that the Forest Service protect these invaluable resources and allows full public review of and participation in its decisions about how our national forests will be managed."
The lawsuit points out that the Forest Service violated the National Environment Policy Act by approving the new regulations based on a faulty environmental impact statement that failed to analyze adequately the environmental impacts of the new regulations. Contrary to common sense, the EIS flatly asserts that the new rule, which governs the development of management plans for every national forest, will have no environmental effects on the 193 million acres of national forest lands.
The lawsuit is the second to be filed by conservation groups challenging the new rules.
The conservation groups filing today have also sent a 60-day notice letter under the Endangered Species Act regarding the Forest Service's failure to adequately consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service about the effects of the new regulations on protected species and will add those claims to the lawsuit after the 60 days expires.
"Our national forests and grasslands belong to all Americans, not industry special interests," said Bob Dreher, vice president for conservation law and general counsel of Defenders of Wildlife. "The American public has a right to be involved in planning for the management of their national forests, and to have forest plans that protect the wildlife and other natural resources of those forests for generations to come. The Bush rule fails on all these counts."
Earthjustice is representing Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Vermont Natural Resources Counsel.
Congress passed the National Forest Management Act in 1976 to reform the Forest Service and to ensure that the agency give due consideration to non-timber resources, such as recreation, wildlife, and water. The NFMA regulations targeted by the Bush administration include the critical legal requirement that national forests be managed to maintain viable wildlife populations. This rule supports populations of popular game species such as elk, moose, and black bear, and helps keep sensitive and rare species off the endangered species list by identifying and correcting wildlife population declines before species become imperiled.
The Reagan administration adopted this wildlife viability protection in response to declines in the population and range of many species caused by the routine approval of logging and other development projects that did not take the need to conserve wildlife into account. The Bush administration's attempt to repeal the NFMA wildlife protections threatens a future in which rare species will once again dwindle and disappear from the national forests.
The National Forest Management Act also requires the Forest Service to allow citizens to participate fully in forest management decisions. The Bush rules invalidate the 1982 standards for national forest management instituted by Ronald Reagan that allow public review of the environmental impacts of proposed national forest plans governing timber harvest levels and natural resource protection.
The court's invalidation of the Bush administration's prior attempt to change these rules was a strong signal that full public involvement in decisions regarding their public forests must be restored.
Read the complaint (PDF)
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.