Posted: Thursday, November 18, 2010 10:00 AM
Environmental group sues to protect woodpecker habitat
A federal judge did not commit a legal error by refusing to stop a salvage logging project in California's Plumas National Forest, according to a federal appeals court.
The Earth Island Institute, an environmental group, failed to prove that a preliminary injunction halting the U.S. Forest Service project was warranted, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.
"In short, the district court used the correct standard for analyzing Earth Island's likelihood of success on the merits and did not abuse its discretion," the majority opinion said.
The lawsuit pertains to salvage logging on nearly 15,000 acres burned during the Moonlight and Wheeler wildfires in 2007.
Such high-intensity fires are beneficial to the black-backed woodpecker, a sensitive forest species that relies on burned tree snags for habitat.
The Forest Service wanted to harvest dead trees from a portion of the affected acreage to salvage their economic value and reduce potential safety hazards.
Earth Island claimed the project would destroy up to 60 percent of the bird's habitat in the area, violating several environmental laws. The agency estimated the project would reduce the new snag habitat by less than 40 percent.
U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell denied Earth Island's request for an injunction last year, ruling that the Forest Service's analysis of the project was adequate despite a "battle of the experts" among scientists working for the agency and those cited by the environmentalists.
In a 2-1 majority opinion, a panel of judges from the 9th Circuit has now upheld that decision, ruling that Damrell acted within his authority in making that determination.
Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt disagreed with the majority opinion, writing that the agency had an obligation to study the project's effects on the woodpecker's viability, but failed to do so.
"The district court expressed skepticism that this logging project would ultimately precipitate the extinction of the black-backed woodpecker in the Sierra Nevadas, a question that is difficult to answer given the shoddiness of the Forest Service's analysis of that issue," Reinhardt said in a dissenting opinion.