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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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9th Circuit OKs Sierra Nevada Forest Plan

(CN) - The U.S. Forest Service did not violate federal law in establishing management guidelines for California's 11.5 million-acre Sierra Nevada region, a divided 9th Circuit ruled.

A legal battle has been ongoing since the enactment of the Forest Service's 2004 Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment, which "liberalizes management restrictions" by emphasizing logging over controlled burns, and "loosens logging restrictions in specified areas in order to experiment with fire suppression techniques," according to the ruling.

California, the Sierra Forest Legacy, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society claim that the agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to consider the short-term effects its framework would have on threatened species such as the spotted owl that live in old-growth forests.

U.S. District Judge Morrison England granted the Forest Service summary judgment on the claims, and the federal appeals panel in Pasadena affirmed, while offering four separate opinions on various aspects of the ongoing case.

"There is no question that implementation of the 2004 Framework will destroy some owl habitat, a consequence the SEIS plainly acknowledges," the majority found. However, "the projected loss of habitat is small compared to both the scale of the Sierra Nevada and earlier management practices insensitive to the needs of old forest species," it continues.

The majority added that "it is the prerogative of the Forest Service to determine that long-term effects - even long-term effects subject to uncertainty - remain desirable despite short-term harm."

"The Forest Service, when promulgating the 2004 Framework, disclosed and focused adequately on short-term effects of intensified management and therefore complied with NEPA," the ruling states.

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