Public Lands Litigation Update – September 2021

Nothing from the Forest Service for September, but here’s what I’ve seen.  (Links are to articles, news releases or court opinions.)


(Court decision in WildEarth Guardians v. U. S. Forest Service.)  On September 10, the federal court for the Eastern District of Washington denied a challenge to the Colville National Forest revised forest plan’s direction related to livestock grazing and gray wolves because the plaintiffs could not show they were injured without a site-specific grazing decision based on the revised plan, and because the state “is the lead agency primarily responsible for wolf management operations.”  The court also upheld ESA consultation compliance for whitebark pine, Canada lynx and grizzly bears.

(Court decision.)  On September 21, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a case filed against the Bitterroot National Forest by two landowners contesting the scope of a Forest Service road easement across their land because they failed to meet the 12-year statute of limitations under the Quiet Title Act for making their claims.

(Court decision.)  On September 21, the federal district court of Wyoming determined that the Bridger-Teton National Forest had improperly authorized the State of Wyoming to feed elk on two winter feedgrounds because they did not appropriately analyze the harmful impacts of concentrated feeding on wildlife, including the increased risk of transmission of lethal chronic wasting disease.

(New lawsuit.)  On September 21, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed a lawsuit in the Montana federal district court against the Ripley logging project on the Kootenai National Forest near the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear recovery zone.

(Court decision in Yaak Valley Forest Council v. Vilsack.)  On September 28, the federal district court for Montana ordered the Kootenai National Forest to comply with the requirements of the National Trials System Act after nearly a decade of delay by preparing a comprehensive plan for the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail by December 31, 2023.  The Forest could not rely on its forest plan to meet this requirement.


(New lawsuit:  Center for Biological Diversity v. U. S. Bureau of Land Management.)  On September 16, five environmental groups sued the Interior Department, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the 2019 West Mojave Route Network Project and plan amendments for violating NEPA, FLPMA, and ESA when authorizing off-road vehicle use and cattle grazing in the California Desert Conservation Area.  (The news release includes a link to the complaint.)


(Notice of intent to sue.)  On September 8, three environmental groups filed a notice of intent to sue over a delayed response to their 2020 petition seeking to list the Alexander Archipelago wolves under the Endangered Species Act.  Alleged threats to the wolves include “the intensive clear-cut logging of old-growth forests on the Tongass National Forest” and associated road construction, and loss of regulatory “protections from the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule on the Tongass National Forest.”  (A link to the notice is included in this article.)

(Court decision in WildEarth Guardians v. Haaland.)  On September 20, the district court for the Central District of California invalidated the decision by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to not list the Joshua tree as threatened or endangered.  The court held that the agency’s determination that climate change doesn’t threaten the trees to such an extent to warrant protection was arbitrary and capricious.  (The court’s opinion is here.)


2 thoughts on “Public Lands Litigation Update – September 2021”

  1. Regarding the Ripley project, which we discussed here recently, this letter by Doug Ferrell, co-chair of the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition, may be of interest:

    The governing board of the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition has voted unanimously to support a legal defense of the Forest Service Ripley project. This vote represents the strength and importance of the collaborative process the group is dedicated to.

    The KFSC represents a diverse mix of forest users, including environmental groups, that work together to seek solutions to forest management issues. A fundamental reality we all recognize is that the ample public lands that surround our communities are suitable for a diverse mix of uses, including timber and recreation, wilderness and wildlife.

    The Ripley project calls for a combination of timber harvest and fuels reduction in a large area of some 29,000 acres near Libby, just east of U.S. 2 and south of the river. The project area includes a good deal of private lands, homes and development, the Libby airport and an extensive road system.

    It seems crystal clear to all of us that a priority for management of this area, so close to town, should be to reduce fire risk and provide diverse recreation activities. The Ripley project, which benefitted from ample public involvement, is designed to do just that.

    A legal challenge brought by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a Helena group, makes the case that the project should focus more on the needs of grizzly bears. The KFSC has long supported goals to protect and enhance grizzly habitat, but we consider it a matter of common sense that the Ripley area is not well suited for this as a primary purpose. The Kootenai National Forest in cooperation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service has identified Grizzly bear core areas and important Grizzly bear habitat outside of core areas. This is not one of those areas. The Ripley project contains extensive mitigations to alleviate potential impact on the bear while balancing the other priorities.

    In addition, a claim by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, that there are 3,223 acres of clear cuts is an exaggeration. This acreage actually includes a combination of different regeneration prescriptions including shelterwood, seed tree and clearcuts with reserves. These treatments are needed in order to reduce dense stands of Douglas fir that pose an extreme fire hazard while moving the landscape to a more desired species mix and stocking levels as dictated by the Forest Plan. The KFSC has long advocated for more landscape level treatments, particularly where there is an extreme risk of wildfire.

    KFSC is not alone in acting to support the Ripley project. The Lincoln County Commissioners, and the Montana State Department of Natural Resources, among others, have taken action to support the project.

    As always, KFSC is open to input and suggestions from all community members, on this and other issues.


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