League of Wilderness Defenders v. USFS

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 07-30-2012
  • Case #: 11-35451
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Fletcher for the court; Circuit Judges Fisher and Bybee.
  • Full Text Opinion

Where the U.S. Forestry Service proposes a forest management research project in an experimental forest specifically set aside for such study, the agency's EIS satisfies NEPA if it (1) considers a reasonable range of alternatives that would fulfill the Project’s goals and research objectives; (2) is adequately supported by scientific data; and (3) takes a hard look at the significant impacts of the Project.

League of Wilderness Defenders–Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project (“the League”) filed suit against the U.S. Forest Service (“the Service”), alleging the agency’s environmental impact statement (“EIS”) for the Experimental Forest Thinning, Fuels Reduction, and Research Project (“the Project”) failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). The Service designed the Project to address risks of infestation and wildfire, provide operational scale research opportunities, and answer six research questions posed by an internally and externally peer-reviewed Study Plan. The district court granted summary judgment to the Service, largely because the Project involved the purpose of experimental forests–research. The League appealed. However, the Court disagreed with the League’s three assertions of EIS deficiency, finding that (1) the EIS did not incorporate an unreasonably narrow purpose and need or rigid implementation where it considered alternatives pursuant to relevant statutory objectives; (2) it could not be said the agency had not made a reasoned decision or the EIS lacked scientific integrity where (a) reports supported the general proposition that excessive density presents certain risks that controlled thinning can reduce; and (b) contested calculations fell within the agency’s area of expertise and were supported in the scientific record; and (3) that qualitative analysis (of one no-action, and two action alternatives) in the EIS was acceptable and constituted a “hard look” where, as here, the agency explained why precise quantification of the Project’s impact was unreliable, and the League failed to present viable but unexamined alternatives. The court called EIS use of “imminent” and “catastrophic” a close call but neither an overstatement of risk, nor arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion because the EIS mentioned that imminent risk did not mean immediate mortality, and the peer-reviewed Study Plan stated the risks would increase with time. AFFIRMED.

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