PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - The Bureau of Land Management does not have to further justify its plan to cut and burn young juniper trees in an Oregon wilderness area, a federal judge ruled.
In 2008 the Oregon Natural Desert Association filed suit against the agency to prevent it from carrying out a plan to eradicate juniper trees from sage-grouse habitat in the Steen Mountain BLM Cooperative Management and Protection Area in southeastern Oregon.
The environmental group says that the BLM's plan will actually harm rather than help the sage-grouse, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) named as a candidate for endangered species listing.
In a finding last year , the FWS said listing the sage grouse as endangered under the Endangered Species Act was "warranted but precluded" by higher-priority listing actions.
U.S. District Court Judge Garr King disagreed that the listing decision relied on or provided new information that the BLM needed to consider before starting the juniper-eradication project because he said the agency had considered the sage grouse a "sensitive status" species while developing the plan.
Quoting 9th Circuit precedent in Swanson v. U.S. Forest Service, King said the "FWS's listing determination changes only the 'legal status of the [species], but it did not change the biological status,'" which the BLM considered in its original Environmental Impact Statement.
King found, however, that the BLM should have considered the environmental impact of two potential additions to an already approved wind-power project and transmission line, even though the developers had withdrawn their proposals before BLM wrote the initial Environmental Impact Statement.
"Having considered the East and West Ridge Project sites 'reasonably foreseeable' for purposes of evaluating the transmission line, when the developer had already pulled the applications for those projects at the time of the draft EIS on the transmission line, the BLM fails to provide a rational explanation in the DNA for why these projects are not reasonably foreseeable requiring a determination as to their significance in the context of the Juniper Treatment Project," King wrote.
Although the developers, Columbia Energy Partners, later reinstated their proposals to build the East and West Ridge Projects, they announced that they were abandoning the projects after King released his decision.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.