Judge Blocks Forest Service Move to Exclude Public from Project Decisions
Doug Honnold, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699
Shawn Regnerus, American Wildlands, (406) 586-8175
A federal judge today restored the public's right to participate in the management of our National Forests by rejecting three Bush administration rules that blocked public scrutiny of U.S. Forest Service decisions.
Today's ruling by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Donald Molloy came in a lawsuit filed against the Forest Service by The Wilderness Society, American Wildlands, and Pacific Rivers Council. In the ruling, Judge Molloy issued a nationwide injunction against a rule that required members of the public to submit substantial comments on a Forest Service project or else lose the right to challenge that project.
"The substantive comment requirement was a serious problem because under these rules members of the public might not even know that a project threatened their interests until after the Forest Service deadline for public comment," said Earthjustice lawyer Doug Honnold, who represented the conservationists in the case. "Whether you're a hunter, hiker or neighboring landowner, the Bush rule could cut you out of the process."
Today's ruling replaces the illegal rule with a prior rule that had governed the Forest Service appeals process from 1993 until the illegal rule replaced it. That prior rule allows appeal of a Forest Service project by members of the public who simply express interest in the project.
Judge Molloy also declared unlawful two Forest Service rules that allowed the government to cut the public out of National Forest management by having the Secretary or Under Secretary of Agriculture sign a Forest Service project decision or by exempting a project from environmental analysis requirements. Those two rules previously were also invalidated by a federal court in California in a separate lawsuit over the Forest Service appeal rules.
"Our National Forests and wildlife are owned by every American. And every American should be able to participate in deciding how these lands are managed," said Shawn Regnerus of American Wildlands. "This decision ensures that right."
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