The Center for Biological diversity is suing the Tahoe National Forest for its decision on the Sunny South timber sale. The sale is designed to “reduce the extent and risk of insect infestations, as well as to reduce the negative effects of those infestations on forest health and resilience.” Plaintiffs allege, “Six (California spotted) owl territories are slated to be logged …, all of which are important contributors to the overall owl population given the high degree of successful owl reproduction in these old forested areas.”
Section 603 of the amended Healthy Forests Restoration Act establishes a categorical exclusion for qualifying insect and disease projects in designated areas on National Forest System lands. An insect and disease project that may be categorically excluded under this authority is a project that is designed to reduce the risk or extent of, or increase the resilience to, insect or disease infestation in the areas. The project must be located in an area designated pursuant to a Governor’s request for areas in their State that are experiencing, or at risk of, an insect or disease epidemic. The project must also meet other criteria, including these rather subjective ones:
- The project was developed through a collaborative process that includes multiple interested persons representing diverse interests and is transparent and non-exclusive.
- The best available scientific information must be considered to maintain or restore ecological integrity, including maintaining or restoring the structure, function, composition and connectivity.
We might find out a little more about what these things mean from this court.
There used to be a sort of rule of thumb that if a project looked controversial, the Forest Service wouldn’t pursue a categorical exclusion (in part because they may be difficult to defend in court). The new agency policy appears to be to thumb its nose.