(CN) – The U.S. Forest Service did not violate federal law when it approved nine timber sale and restoration projects in Montana’s Kootenai National Forest, the 9th Circuit ruled.
The Forest Service adopted the nine projects in 2004-2005, conducting an extensive environmental analysis of each one.
WildWest Institute filed a lawsuit to stop the project, alleging that the Forest Service violated its own regulations, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the National Forest Management Act.
The district court ruled for the Forest Service, claiming that WildWest had failed to “establish a connection between the challenged forest-wide management practices and the lawfulness of the logging projects.”
WildWest appealed, arguing that the “best available science” requirement of the Forest Service rules requires the Forest Plan to include between 20 percent and 50 percent of old-growth trees, not 10 percent as required by the plan.
Judge Tallman of the San Francisco-based federal appeals court reversed the decision, noting that the Forest Service relied on sources that said between 8 percent and 10 percent of old-growth trees was sufficient for species viability.
Tallman also ruled that the Forest Service did not violate the law by designating tree stands smaller than 50 acres as old-growth habitat.
“The Forest Plan does not mandate stands of 50 acres or more; rather, such a practice is merely recommended where possible,” Tallman wrote.
The judge also concluded that the Forest Service projects would not lower the population of the pileated woodpecker below sustainable levels.