The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton, invalidates regulations issued by the Bush administration in 2005 that sought to overhaul the land-management planning process for national forests by eliminating mandatory protections for wildlife and clean water and removing public participation in the process. Among the measures discarded by the Bush administration was a key regulatory guarantee of wildlife viability in the national forests that had been in place since the Reagan administration.
"The national forest planning rules are like the Constitution for our national forests, and the Bush administration tried to throw out the Bill of Rights," said Trent Orr of Earthjustice who argued the case before Judge Hamilton. "The Bush rule changes made any wildlife provisions in forest management plans purely aspirational, but the nation's wildlife deserve more than a hope-and-a-prayer planning system."
Today's ruling found that Bush administration officials had bypassed legally required environmental reviews and endangered species protections in creating a new management system for the national forests that eliminated enforceable environmental protections from the forest planning process. Judge Hamilton also ruled that the administration had sprung its final forest planning rules on the public without sufficient notice of the paradigm shift that the rules accomplished.
The judge's ruling prohibits the Bush administration from "implementation and utilization" of the new forest planning rules.
The National Forest Management Act requires the Forest Service to protect wildlife on the national forests and allow citizens to participate in management decisions. The Bush rules invalidated the 1982 standards for national forest management that protected species and required public comment on national forest timber plans.
Earthjustice, representing Defenders of Wildlife, The Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club and Vermont Natural Resources Council, filed a legal challenge to the Bush administration rule changes in October 2004.
Pete Frost from the Western Environmental Law Center represented Citizens for Better Forestry in a similar case that was also decided in today's ruling.
The State of California also filed a lawsuit against the rule changes.