Trump Administration Ignores Court Order Stopping 85,000 Acre Payette Forest Logging and Burning Project, Conservation Groups Sue

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in August of 2018 ruled in favor of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Idaho Sporting Congress, and Native Ecosystems Council and halted a massive Forest Service timber sale that would have logged a mammoth 40,000 acres – over 62 square miles! It would have “thinned” the forest so much it would no longer provide hiding cover for elk and deer as required by the Forest Plan and prescribed burning another 45,000 acres – more than 70 square miles.

The Court ordered the Forest Service to stop all activities on the Lost Creek-Boulder Creek Timber sale in the Payette National Forest because the agency was violating its own Forest Plan.  Although it seems almost unbelievable, the new Lost Creek-Boulder Creek decision by the Forest Service basically tells the Ninth Circuit the agency has no intention of complying with the Court’s order and intends to proceed with its plan to log and burn a combined 85,000 acres in the New Meadows Ranger District and forcing us to once again challenge the Forest Service in court.

The Forest Plan

The Payette Forest Plan guides natural resource management activities on lands administered by the Payette National Forest. It provides forest-wide, long-term management direction in the form of goals, objectives, standards, and guidelines designed to guide land and species management activities in the Payette National Forest.

The Ninth Circuit held that the Forest Service’s decision to approve the Lost Creek-Boulder Creek Project was “arbitrary and capricious” and “constituted a violation of the National Forest Management Act.”  Specifically, the Court held that the Forest Service had proposed to manage the forest in a manner that was clearly inconsistent with the Payette Forest Plan and that the agency had improperly adopted a new definition of “old forest habitat” for the Lost Creek Project area.

Instead of using established definitions of old-growth forests the Payette National Forest illegally defined as old-growth, forests that have hardly any big trees. And guess what, none of the previously defined old-growth forests in the project area no longer qualified as old-growth because they have too many big old trees but they will fix that by cutting them down. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals instructed the district court to vacate the Forest Service’s September 2014 Record of Decision and send the proposal back to the Forest Service to comply with the law and Forest Plan.

The logging will remove essential habitat for snowshoe hare and red squirrels, which are the primary food sources for numerous forest predators including bobcats, mountain lions, lynx, pine martins, fisher, wolverine, coyotes, goshawks, great grey owls, and boreal owls.

The miles of new and rebuilt logging roads will send more sediment into critical spawning streams for threatened salmon and bull trout, filling the streambeds with fine dirt that smothers aquatic insects as well as bull trout and salmon eggs and fry.

This is particularly problematic because important streams in the area are already federal- designated Critical Habitat for Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout recovery under the Endangered Species Act.  One of the reasons these fish were put under the protection of the Endangered Species Act was because of the tons of sediment put into these streams by past logging and logging roads.

New Decision Bad for Taxpayers and the Constitution

The Forest Service estimated that the commercial logging will cost taxpayers a whopping $12,429,619, and the entire project will lose nearly $22 million.  This is the Trump administration’s philosophy in a nutshell – it’s more important to subsidize the timber industry with this huge money-losing timber sale in federally-designated bull trout Critical Habitat than it is to comply with a Federal Court’s order.

But the undeniable fact is that Federal Court decisions are binding on the Forest Service and all other Executive Branch agencies.  Unfortunately, the Trump administration has a record of deciding it doesn’t have to follow the U.S. Constitution or Federal Court orders and is proceeding in direct defiance of and in disregard of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion and mandate.

We have little choice except to take the Forest Service back to court, especially considering the horrific precedent ignoring the Court sets for other illegal actions by federal agencies.  While we are primarily interested in protecting the forest ecosystems and bull trout critical habitat, this case is also vitally important to ensure that the federal government must honor the separation of power and the checks and balances of the Judiciary ensconced in the U.S. Constitution.

Please join the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and help us fight to protect our national forests and the U.S. constitution from Trump and timber corporation’s bulldozers.

Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.