Yet another attempt by the Bush Administration to change federal regulations in order to accelerate logging on the national forests has apparently gone down in flames. On the last day of June a federal judge in Oakland overturned regulations the Bush Administration crafted in order to gut a provision of the National Forest Management Act. That provision requires that the Forest Service protect fish and wildlife on the national forests. The Bush Administration sought to maintain habitat but not to monitor whether that habitat was effectively protecting fish and wildlife.
Regulations implementing the “viability provision” of the 1976 Act have been used by forest activists to stop numerous timber sales and other commercial developments in national forests around the country. It is unlikely that the Obama Administration will appeal the district court ruling.
The lawsuit was led by Citizens for Better Forestry – a small forest protection organization based in the village of Peanut in Trinity County, California. Co-plaintiffs include the Environmental Protection Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Wild West Institute, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, Idaho Sporting Congress, Friends of the Clearwater, Utah Environmental Congress, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Wild South, the Lands Council, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, Oregon Wild and WildEarth Guardians. The environmental groups were represented by attorney Pete Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center.
The decision marks the third time a federal court has rejected revisions of the species viability regulations over the past decade. While the Bush Administration gets points for trying hard, the judge admonished government lawyers for repeating the same arguments that were twice rejected previously by the courts. A separate lawsuit by Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, and Vermont Natural Resources Council challenging the same rule was consolidated with the case.
The list of plaintiffs in this case tells a story in itself. All plaintiffs are grassroots forest activist organizations. In the past national and grassroots environmental groups coordinated forest strategy and often collaborated on national-impact lawsuits of this type. But that collaboration waned during the Clinton Administration when most large national environmental groups went along with Clinton Administration rule changes which grassroots forest protection groups believed weakened protection for fish and wildlife on the national forests. These days national and grassroots forest protection organizations rarely collaborate – a development this blogger believes has weakened the public forest protection movement.