A federal judge has refused to stop timber harvest and fuel reduction treatments on 2,600 acres of an Idaho national forest.
Last year, the U.S. Forest Service approved the Little Slate Project in the Nez Perce National Forest to improve aquatic habitats and other aspects of forest health.
Environmental groups — Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Clearwater — opposed logging in the area and filed a legal complaint seeking an injunction against the project.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mikel Williams has denied their request and dismissed the case, ruling that the agency properly followed environmental laws.
“After conducting the mandated substantial inquiry and probing review, the court finds that the defendants did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in approving the Little Slate Project,” the ruling said.
The plaintiffs accused the Forest Service of failing to fully consider and disclose environmental impacts, protect biodiversity and mitigate harm to the habitat of federally protected species.
For example, the environmentalists claimed the agency didn’t take a “hard look” at the negative effects on the Canada lynx, which is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
However, the judge ruled that the Forest Service wasn’t required to supplement its environmental review due to unverified sightings of the animal.
The agency was also reasonable in determining that the project would not threaten the existence of “indicator species,” like the goshawk and pileated woodpecker.
Williams rejected arguments that the Forest Service’s data about the impacts to threatened bull trout were limited and outdated. He also dismissed criticism of the agency’s hydrological models.
“Plaintiffs’ failure to identify any better science or to point that any other existing data is available makes this claim a ‘non-starter,’” the ruling said.
The judge said he owes “substantial deference” to the agency’s analysis and “must not assume the role of a scientist.”