A 1976 law requires the Forest Service to maintain viable populations of wildlife species in national forests. In September 2004, the Bush administration re-wrote rules adopted during the Reagan administration to gut what’s called “viapops.”
The Bush rule sought to remove key environmental protections governing the 191-million-acre National Forest System. The Bush administration’s proposed regulations sought to overhaul the land-management planning process for national forests by eliminating mandatory protections for wildlife and clean water, and mandatory limits on timber harvesting. The regulations also sharply curtailed public participation in the process. Among the measures the Bush administration attempted to discard was a key regulatory guarantee of wildlife viability in the national forests that had been in place since the Reagan administration.
Earthjustice challenged the Bush administration in court, and in March 2007 the court ruled that the rewritten rules were invalid. The judge found that Bush administration officials had bypassed legally required environmental review and endangered species protections in creating a new management system for the national forests that eliminated enforceable environmental protections from the forest planning process. The judge 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 ruling prohibits the “implementation and utilization” of the Bush rules nationwide.