United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Lynn Winmill Chief Judge.
Court has before it a motion for injunctive relief filed by
plaintiff, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. Alliance seeks
to enjoin two logging projects in northern Idaho. For the
reasons discussed below, the motion is denied.
Idaho Panhandle National Forests (IPNF) encompass almost 2.5
million acres in northern Idaho and a small portion of
Washington. In 2015, wildfires burned 47, 500 acres in the
IPNF. Following the fires, the Forest Service sought to
restore the forest and allow logging in the burned area. Two
of those restoration projects are at issue here: (1) the
Tower Fire Salvage Project, comprised of 3, 154 acres of
burned area located six miles west of Priest Lake, Idaho, and
(2) the Grizzly Fire Salvage and Restoration Project,
comprised of 14, 500 acres of burned area in Shoshone County,
Tower Project aims to salvage merchantable dead or dying
trees to (1) protect the health and safety of the public; (2)
restore areas burned by the Tower Fire; and (3) recover the
remaining economic value of the timber. The project will
remove “danger trees” on 52 miles of road, 8
miles of hiking trails, and 17 miles of snowmobile trails in
the burned area. According to the Forest Service, the project
will also reduce future fire severity by reducing the fuel in
the area. The Forest Service plans to restore the forest by
replanting native trees to reestablish desired forested
Grizzly Project will remove trees that could be a safety
hazard along 27 miles of forest roads, restore burned areas
with desired tree species, and allow logging in about 1, 700
acres burned area. Id. at 4. There will also be
additional maintenance and reconstruction of existing roads
as part of the project.
Forest Service began receiving public input on the projects
in October 2015 when they posted information on the projects
on the Forest Service website. See Scaife Declaration
(Dkt. No. 14-2) at ¶ 16. In late January, 2016, the
Forest Service sent two letters - identified as scoping
letters - that described in detail the projects. The scoping
letter describing the Grizzly Project was sent to about 330
interested parties, id. at ¶ 17, and the
scoping letter describing the Tower Project was sent to about
225 interested parties. See Environmental Assessment for
Tower Project (Dkt. No. 8-10) at p. 9.
scoping letters included a detailed description of the
fires' impacts, the reasons why the Forest Service wanted
to conduct salvage logging, and a notice that the Forest
Service would be seeking to expedite the projects through an
Emergency Situation Determination (ESD). They explained that
if the ESD was granted, it would authorize immediate
implementation of the projects once the agency had decided to
proceed. The letters concluded by asking for public comment.
Alliance received these letters and filed comments on the
Projects. In addition to these letters, the Forest Service
held two public meetings during the comment period and
organized field trips to the project sites. Id.
Panhandle Forest Collaborative (PFC) was one of the groups
that filed public comments on the Tower Project. The PFC
includes conservation groups (Idaho Conservation League, The
Lands Council, & Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness),
government groups (Bonner County), timber interests (Idaho
Forest Group & Mike Reynolds Logging) and recreation
groups (Sandpoint Winter Riders & Panhandle Riders
Association). Forest Service officials met with the PFC to
address their concerns. See Knight Declaration (Dkt. No.
14-1) at ¶ 9. The PFC recommended against salvaging
timber from any old growth stands, and encouraged the Forest
Service to reduce the amount of temporary road construction.
See Brief (Dkt. No. 25) at p. 2. The Forest Service
followed these recommendations, reducing the temporary road
construction from 4.6 miles to 1.2 miles, and deciding not to
harvest 800 acres of old growth timber. Id. Because
the Forest Service made these changes, the PFC supports the
Tower Project. Id.
Kootenai Tribe of Idaho was also monitoring the two Projects.
The Tribe helped create, and actively participates in, the
Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative (KVRI), a collaborative
group including the City of Bonners Ferry, Boundary County,
environmental groups, and representatives of business and
industry. See Brief (Dkt. No. 28-1) at p. 6. Forest
Service officials met with Tribal representatives and members
of the KVRI to listen to their comments on the Projects.
See Knight Declaration (Dkt. No. 14-1) at ¶ 9.
The Tribe has previously been involved in forest restoration
efforts in the IPNF, and both the Tribe and the KVRI support
the Tower and Grizzly Projects largely because of the
restoration work planned in both Projects. Id.
public comments were critical of logging in riparian areas.
See Knight Declaration (Dkt. No. 14-1) at p. 6. The
Forest Service responded by excluding those areas from
mentioned, the scoping letters noted that the Forest Service
was seeking an ESD on both projects. Without an ESD, logging
would not begin immediately upon the Forest Service's
final approval of the Projects because the agency must await
a 90-day period to allow the public to make any objections to
the final decision. Because of the short season for logging
due to harsh winters, a delay to allow the 90-day objection
period to run could push the logging into the summer of 2017.
See ESD Decision Memorandum (Dkt. No. 8-15) at pp.
1-3. During this delay, the burned trees would deteriorate,
making them less valuable, and reducing the revenue needed
for the reforestation efforts. Id. This lost revenue
was estimated to be $2.7 million for the Tower Project and
$927, 911 for the Grizzly Project. See ESD Request -
Tower Project (Dkt. No. 8-16) at p. 21; ESD Request
- Grizzly Project (Dkt. No. 14-7) at p. 18. These would
be significant losses: About 50% of the revenue from the
timber sales was to be used to fund the reforestation
efforts. Id. Delay would also mean that hazards like
tree falls would continue, threatening the public and workers
engaged in reforestation. Id. at p. 1.
all of this into account, the Chief of the Forest Service
issued an ESD for the Grizzly Project on May 13, 2016,
see ESD (Dkt. No. 8-14), and an ESD for the Tower
Project on June 2, 1016. See ESD (Dkt. No. 8-15).
The Forest Service then issued Decision Notices, Findings of
No Significant Impact, and Environmental Assessments for the
Tower and Grizzly Projects on June 23, 2016, and June 30,
2016, respectively. See EA (Tower Project) (Dkt. No.
8-10); EA (Grizzly Project) (Dkt. No. 8-4).
brought this action to halt the logging. It argues the Forest
Service violated NEPA, the Appeals Reform Act, and the APA by
(1) failing to allow a public comment period for the
Projects' EAs; (2) unlawfully issuing ESDs for the
Projects; (3) refusing to prepare an Environmental Impact
Statement (EIS); (4) failing to address the Projects'
impacts on the black-backed woodpeckers; and (5) arriving at
a decision even before conducting the EAs.
Court will consider these challenges after reviewing the
governing legal standards.