San Francisco, CA/Washington, DC
A coalition of conservation groups lodged a complaint today in Federal District Court in San Francisco challenging the Bush administration’s new rules for managing the nation’s 192 million acre National Forest System, a magnificent network of forests and grasslands in 42 states that encompasses 8 percent of the country. The challenged regulations are supposed to govern activities on all national forests and ensure the protection of wildlife and the environment, but the Bush administration has watered them down to the point where they are virtually meaningless.
Earthjustice represents Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Vermont Natural Resources Council as they challenge these regulations on the following grounds:
- they fail to include the environmental protection measures mandated by Congress in the National Forest Management Act of 1976;
- they reverse more than 20 years of protection for wildlife and other resources without any sound or scientific basis for doing so, or any adequate replacement; requirements to use quantitative measurements of wildlife populations and mandatory duties to conserve wildlife on national forests have been eliminated or made discretionary;
- they were crafted through a flawed process — the environmental impacts of this far-reaching action were never analyzed and many significant changes first appeared in the final rule, depriving the public of an opportunity to comment on them.
“The nation’s forests and the people who own them deserve better than this,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife. “We are hopeful the courts will send these rules back to the industry lobbyists who wrote them, stamped ‘illegal’.”
“The new Bush forest rules aren’t rules at all — they’re more like suggestions. They turn forest management to mush, mocking the intent of Congress and undermining public participation in the process,” said Trent Orr, an attorney with Earthjustice. “Agencies need leadership and clear guidance, not this wink and a nod that encourages the exploitation of the public’s resources.”
“Some basic protections for non-timber resources like wildlife and water made sense to the Reagan administration, which put them in place,” said Mike Anderson of The Wilderness Society. “But this administration just went on a search and destroy mission for any environmental safeguard that might stand between the administration’s industry donors and the public’s trees.”
“The Bush administration is eliminating national forest wildlife protections that have been in place and effective for decades,” said Sean Cosgrove, forest policy specialist with the Sierra Club. “Americans want to protect the places where they hike, hunt, and fish, not turn them over to the logging companies.”
Local conservation groups are concerned and have joined this legal challenge. The ramifications of the new regulations may be felt in Vermont, where the Forest Service is updating a plan to manage the Green Mountain National Forest. “The regulations seemingly instruct the Forest Service to ignore the monitoring of wildlife species that Vermonters and visitors value and cherish,” said Jamey Fidel of the Vermont Natural Resources Council.
The complaint is being filed as a supplement to a lawsuit filed by the same plaintiffs in November against a related rule more specifically attacking national forest wildlife and other resource protections. The lawsuit is Defenders of Wildlife v. Johanns, and was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
For more information on these regulations, including opposition from Congress, scientists, and the public, visit: www.SaveNationalForests.org.