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In Conservation Congress v. Nancy Finley (2012) U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104377, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California upheld the authorization of the Beaverslide Timber Sale and Fuel Reduction Project (Project), denying Conservation Congress and Environmental Protection Information Center’s (Plaintiffs) motion for summary judgment and granting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s (Fish and Wildlife) and the U.S. Forest Service’s (Forest Service) cross-motions for summary judgment.

The Project, which would encompass over 13,000 acres in the Six Rivers National Forest, was created to increase timber commodity outputs and to reduce wildfire risks. Plaintiffs were concerned the Project would harm the habitat of the spotted owl, a species listed as threatened with extinction under the ESA. In approving the Project, Fish and Wildlife and the Forest Service concluded the Project would benefit the spotted owl in the long run by reducing the risk of wildfires. Plaintiffs filed suit, asserting five causes of action for violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA).

Pursuant to ESA, the Forest Service consulted with Fish and Wildlife and concluded that the Project was not likely to have adverse effects on the spotted owl. Plaintiffs’ first ESA claim alleged that the Forest Service should reinitiate consultation to analyze new information regarding the Project’s short-term effects on spotted owls and their prey, the need for a more inclusive definition of high quality spotted owl habitat, and competition between spotted and barred owls. The court rejected all claims, finding that the Forest Service was not required to reinitiate consultation because its analysis was adequate and had utilized the best available scientific data. Plaintiffs also brought an ESA action against Fish and Wildlife. The court rejected this challenge as well, holding that Plaintiffs could not base their ESA claim on Fish and Wildlife’s failure to reject adequate analysis by the Forest Service.

Plaintiffs’ NEPA claim alleged that the Forest Service failed to consider the short-term impacts of the Project on the spotted owl, along with the cumulative effects from barred owls. After examining the Forest Service’s NEPA documents, the court concluded that the Forest Service’s analysis complied with NEPA and took the requisite hard look at the Project’s effects on the spotted owl.

Plaintiffs’ NFMA claims alleged that the Forest Service deviated from the wildlife diversity requirements of the Six Rivers Forest Plan by failing to monitor and protect native species. The Forest Service argued that the Plan did not impose such a duty at the project level. The court agreed stating that “neither the NFMA, Forest Service regulations, nor the Forest Plan imposes such a duty, and the court may not create one.” The court therefore denied Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and granted defendants’ cross-motion.

Written By: Tina Thomas, Chris Butcher and Holly McMannes (law clerk)
For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

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