Pacific Rivers Council v. U.S. Forest Service
Feb. 3, 2012
(9th Cir.) 08-17656
The Ninth Circuit held the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) failed to comply with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it failed to discuss the environmental impacts on fish of a proposed Sierra Nevada Forest Plan.
Congress commissioned a study which concluded in 1996 that the Sierra Nevada environment had been severely degraded and that aquatic/riparian habitats were the most altered and impaired. The USFS had prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in 2001 for a forest plan which included extensive discussion of potential impacts on fish and amphibians.
After a change in the Administration (from Clinton to Bush), the USFS then pursued and modified one of the alternatives from the 2001 EIS, which it assessed in a new 2004 EIS. The new proposal greatly increased logging, permitted burning near streams, allowed greater construction of new roads, and reduced restrictions on cattle grazing. The USFS, however, failed to discuss any impacts to fish, much less impacts caused by the specific new changes to the forest plan, despite a Washington staff letter expressing an opinion of such necessity.
The Court of Appeal held NEPA requires agencies to take a “hard look” at environmental consequences, which the USFS failed to do here with regard to fish and amphibians and which was “reasonably possible” to do.