A coalition of conservation groups is moving to intervene in a lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Nevada Framework. The framework is a comprehensive plan to reduce the risk of wildfire, particularly near communities, and protect old forests, watersheds and wildlife on the eleven national forests in the Sierra Nevada Region. Conservationists are concerned that the Bush administration will not properly defend the forest protection law.
In a motion filed in US District Court, the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign -- represented in this case by Earthjustice -- raised serious concerns about the Bush administration's failure to defend environmental laws in the courtroom.
"The people of California spent 14 years working with federal agencies to find creative ways to protect forests, watersheds, and wildlife in the Sierra Nevada region," said Barbara Boyle, Senior Regional Representative for the Sierra Club. "If the administration cannot be trusted to defend a sound policy and a sound process, then we have no choice but to defend it ourselves."
After years of heavy logging across Sierra Nevada forests, the framework was designed to improve National Forest management throughout the region to reduce fire risk and halt the decline of the California spotted owl and other endangered wildlife. It was also intended to avoid a recurrence of the gridlock over the northern spotted owl that occurred a decade ago in the national forests of the Pacific Northwest. The vast majority of the more than 47,000 citizens who helped develop the framework, along with the California Resources Agency among others, strongly supported the shift toward ecologically based conservation planning for Sierra Nevada forests.
"The Sierra Nevada Framework reflects science and policy and the will of the people," says Jay Watson, Regional Director for The Wilderness Society. "The last thing we need is for three parties hostile to the framework to negotiate its demise behind closed doors."
In March, Plumas County and the Quincy Library Group -- an association of approximately 30 individuals dominated by logging interests from companies like Sierra Pacific Industries -- filed a lawsuit challenging the Sierra Nevada Framework.
"The administration's clear and consistent decision not to defend environmental laws amounts to an open invitation for timber, mining, and ranching interests to sue," said Craig Thomas, Director of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign.
Conservation groups based their concerns about the framework lawsuit on the Bush administration's pattern of not defending sound environmental laws. Last year, when the administration failed to seriously defend the US Forest Service's policy to protect 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas, conservation groups intervened, and in December 2002, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the policy was legally sound.
More recently, the Bush administration announced that it had reached a controversial settlement with the State of Utah, opening up millions of acres of federal wilderness to drilling, mining, and logging. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals had rejected the same lawsuit in 1998, but last month the state of Utah resurrected the suit, sensing it would get a different response from the Bush administration.
"When industry friends file anti-environmental lawsuits, the Bush administration often chooses sweetheart settlement over defending the law," added attorney Greg Loarie from Earthjustice, "It's like playing soccer without a goalie, not just for one game but for four entire seasons."
In contrast, the 15 states, including California, that have sued the administration to enforce clean air laws, have found the administration far more willing to vigorously defend rule changes that allow more pollution from old power plants, refineries, and factories.