Matthew Koehler sent this one in, and I can’t say anything about this project due to the litigation cone of silence. Suffice it to say that there are two sides. I wish more law students would volunteer for proactive (I think the legal term is affirmative) litigation for the government, say trespass cases, water rights, etc. IMHO it would be a better deal for the taxpayer.
Students at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law representing two regional environmental nonprofits successfully blocked a federal timber permit that would have allowed logging in the Rio Grande National Forest near Alamosa in southern Colorado.
U.S. Judge William Martinez in U.S. District Court for Colorado ruled Thursday that the U.S. Forest Service did not meet obligations spelled out in the National Forest Management Act and that an Environmental Assessment was inadequate.
“The court finds fault with the Forest Service’s failure to lay out a more detailed plan regarding … soil compaction. The court finds even greater fault with simply identifying the fact that mitigation measures exist, without even mentioning what those mitigation measures are, not to mention how and when they might be used,” Martinez said in his ruling regarding soil and regeneration issues.
The ruling overturns issued timber permits for more than 3,436 acres in the Handkerchief Mesa area of the Rio Grande National Forest. Permits would have also allowed for the construction of 11 miles of roads.
The suit against the Forest Service and its parent agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was prepared in June 2009 by DU student Jacob Schlesinger and Environmental Law Clinic fellow Ashley Wilmes under the direction of DU Environmental Law Clinic director Michael Harris.
It was filed in federal court in Denver on behalf of environmental groups Rocky Mountain Wild based in Denver and Durango, and WildEarth Guardians, based in Santa Fe.
DU student lawyers Mason Brown and Justine Shepherd argued the case in federal court in December 2011 under a provision that allows students to practice in federal court while supervised by a licensed attorney.
The case argued timber cutting would affect lands stressed by previous clear-cutting and an ongoing spruce budworm infestation.
Allowed to proceed, the proposal could lead to continued soil damage, including erosion and compaction, impacting the flow of water to the Rio Grande and thousands of communities downstream, according to a DU press release.
Runoff from the area feeds the headwaters of the Rio Grande river, which is a major source of drinking water for millions of people in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, and provides water for agriculture in both the United States and Mexico.
Harris said stopping a permitted timber project in Colorado is “extremely rare.” The ruling, he says, sends a message to the Forest Service that its permitting process must take into account changing conditions, ongoing insect infestations and other ecological conditions.
“The court has told the Forest Service, the game has changed, and you need to change with them if you are going to continue to permit these projects,” Harris said in the press release.
Martinez ordered the Forest Service to “analyze anew, on remand, whether the project will significantly affect the quality of the human environment.”