The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Trent Orr, Earthjustice (510) 550-6700 or Tim Preso, Earthjustice (406) 586-9699

James Navarro, Defenders of Wildlife (202) 772-0247

Kristina Johnson, Sierra Club (415) 977-5619
Mike Anderson, The Wilderness Society (206) 624-6430

Bush-Era Rules Abandoning Wildlife Protections Rejected by Federal Court, Again

Conservation groups hail victory for wildlife and public participation

The U.S. District
Court for the Northern District of California on Tuesday issued a
decision overturning the Bush administration's last attempt to weaken
rules governing management of America's 155 national forests and 20
national grasslands.
The Bush rules, issued April 21, 2008, repealed key protections for
national forests mandated under the National Forest Management Act
The case was filed by a coalition of conservation groups represented by Earthjustice.
The 2008 rule mirrored another issued by the Bush administration
in 2005, which was also thrown out by a federal court. Like the 2005
rule, the 2008 rule eliminated mandatory protections in place since the
Reagan administration that require the national
forests to be managed to guarantee viable populations of all wildlife
species, to preserve clean, healthy streams and lakes, and to protect
diverse natural forests. The Bush rules also sought to reduce public
participation in decisions about the management
of our public forests.
In ruling on plaintiffs' claims under the Endangered Species Act
and the National Environmental Policy Act, the court's opinion stated:
"[C]ourts have rejected USDA's
argument that the programmatic nature of the plan development rule
necessarily means that it will have no effect on the environment or
protected species. The USDA has simply copied those rejected
legal arguments in a new document and called it a 'Biological
Assessment.' This is not sufficient to satisfy the [Endangered Species
Act]'s requirements....Because the EIS does not evaluate the
environmental impacts of the 2008 Rule, it does not comply with
[the National Environmental Policy Act]'s requirements."
Earlier versions of the forest planning rules contained
enforceable standards that protected wildlife, water, and the forests.
The earlier rules also provided opportunities for public involvement
and required analysis of environmental impacts of forest
plans on the national forests, impacts that result from plan decisions
regarding logging levels and other extractive uses of forest resources.
"America's diverse wildlife that inhabits our national forests
will be safer because of this ruling, which will require forest
managers to look out for the welfare of every species," said
Earthjustice attorney Trent Orr. "The Bush administration tried
twice to eliminate vital protections for all wildlife living in the
national forests. Fortunately, America's strong environmental laws, and
groups willing to fight to enforce them, kept them from succeeding both
The court found that the Forest Service violated the National
Environment Policy Act by approving the new regulations based on a
faulty environmental impact statement that failed to analyze adequately
the environmental impacts of the new regulations and
violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to examine the effects
of eliminating wildlife protection standards on protected species.
The new decision represents the second time Bush NFMA rules were rejected by the courts.
"Our national forests and grasslands belong to all Americans and
should be managed that way, not just for the benefit of narrow special
interests," said Peter Nelson, director for federal lands of Defenders
of Wildlife. "The Bush administration left a
legacy of little to no protection for fish, plants and wildlife and the
important values they provide. We've got a lot work to do to get our
forests back on track. The court's decision overturning the Bush
regulations clears the way for us to get started."
"Today's decision offers an opportunity to restore traditional
safeguards to America's forests and wildlife," said Sierra Club
executive director Carl Pope. "The Bush administration attempted a
wholesale gutting of the rules that have protected America's
national forest system for years. Weakening these regulations would
have opened our last wild forests to unchecked logging and industrial
development, with no regard for the impacts on wildlife, the
environment, or recreational users. We're pleased that the
court has recognized the importance of protecting our forests for
future generations."
Earthjustice represented Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Vermont Natural Resources Council.
A separate lawsuit known as Citizens for Better Forestry v. U.S.
Department of Agriculture challenged the same rule, and was
consolidated with this litigation.
Congress passed the National Forest Management Act in 1976 to
reform the Forest Service and to ensure that the agency give due
consideration to non-timber resources, such as recreation, wildlife,
and water. The NFMA regulations targeted by the Bush administration
include the critical legal requirement that national forests be managed
to maintain viable wildlife populations. This rule supports populations
of popular game species such as elk, moose, and black bear, and helps
keep sensitive and rare species off the endangered
species list by identifying and correcting wildlife population declines
before species become imperiled.
The Reagan administration adopted this wildlife viability
protection in response to declines in the population and range of many
species caused by the routine approval of logging and other development
projects that did not take the need to conserve wildlife
into account. The Bush administration's attempt to repeal the NFMA
wildlife protections threatened a future in which rare species would
once again dwindle and disappear from the national forests.
The National Forest Management Act also requires the Forest
Service to allow citizens to participate fully in forest management