Today, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced the Obama administration would not appeal a court ruling won by Earthjustice that struck down forestry regulations enacted by the Bush administration. The Bush regulations greatly weakened protections for wildlife and other natural resources of America's national forests, which is why Earthjustice and a coalition of conservation groups opposed them. Secretary Vilsack said the administration will undertake a new rule-making. The Department of Agriculture oversees the U.S. Forest Service and America's national forests.
The Bush rule sought to remove key environmental protections governing the 191-million-acre National Forest System by eliminating mandatory protections for wildlife and clean water and mandatory limits on timber harvesting. These regulations were also part of a concerted effort by the Bush administration to sharply curtail public participation in the forest management planning process. Among the measures the Bush regulations discarded 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. The American people deserve the highest protections possible for their national forests, which provide habitat for countless species, clean drinking water for millions of Americans, and invaluable recreation opportunities across the nation," said Trent Orr of Earthjustice, who argued the case. "While new rules are being considered, agencies have a strong set of tools they can use to manage our national forests in the resource protective standards of the 1982 regulations."
The National Forest Management Act (NFMA) requires the Forest Service to protect wildlife in the national forests and to allow citizens to participate fully in management decisions. The Bush rules supplanted the 1982 standards for national forest management instituted under Ronal Reagan, which required public review of the environmental impacts of proposed national forest plans governing timber harvest levels and natural resource protection.
Earthjustice, represented Defenders of Wildlife, The Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, and Vermont Natural Resources Council in the legal challenge to the Bush administration rule changes.
The Bush administration first rewrote the rules in 2005. Earthjustice challenged this in court and won.
In April 2008, the Forest Service reissued virtually identical rules to those issued in 2005. Like the 2005 rules, the 2008 rules eliminated important protections for forests, wildlife, watersheds, and other natural resources. Earthjustice sued again because, again, the 2008 rules violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. At the end of June 2009, Earthjustice won a court ruling striking the 2008 rules.