Judge stops FS thinning in lynx habitat on border of Yellowstone NP
Below is a press release from the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. Seems like this issue might be related to the discussion we had over here about pre-commercial thinning and lynx. -mk
Judge Candy Dale, Chief United States Magistrate Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Idaho today ruled in favor of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council in their lawsuit challenging the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Split Creek Pre-commercial Thinning Project which authorized logging 7,000 acres of lodgepole pine forests on the western border of Yellowstone National Park near Island Park, Idaho. Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies said, “Once again a federal Court had found the Forest Service is in violation of the law.”
In 2005, the United States Forest Service adopted a revised map delineating analysis units for the Canada lynx within the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. The Canada lynx is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and the land within the boundaries of Lynx Analysis Units (“LAUs”) is subject to various restrictions, including a prohibition on pre-commercial thinning of trees. The 2005 map eliminated eight LAUs located within the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and removed approximately 400,000 acres of land previously subject to the restrictions applicable to LAUs.
In December of 2009, the Forest Supervisor for the Caribou-Targhee National Forest authorized the Split Creek Pre-commercial Thinning Project. The Project authorized the pre-commercial thinning of approximately 7,000 acres of lodgepole pine located within the Island Park and Madison- Pitchstone Plateaus Subsections of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest
“In essence, the Court stated that the Forest Service failed to hold the 2005 map to public scrutiny and peer review, as required by National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA. Then, they implemented the Project based upon this illegal map, which in turn constituted illegal tiering,” explained Garrity. “The Court stated that the Forest Service should have prepared an EIS for the 2005 map because it was a significant action affecting a listed species. The Court addressed one ESA claim, and found in our favor, regarding the Agencies’ failure to reach a jeopardy determination on the 2005 map.”
Judge Dale wrote in her order:
“[T]he Court finds that the Forest Service’s failure to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for a decision that ultimately opened approximately 400,000 acres of previously protected land to precommercial thinning violated NEPA. Moreover, like a house of cards built on an unsound foundation, because the 2005 map was not analyzed under NEPA, the agency’s analysis under the ESA – which is based upon the validity of the 2005 map – cannot withstand judicial review.”
“The 2005 map removed eight LAUs from the 2001 map. It eliminated almost 400,000 acres of land that was previously subject to greater environmental restrictions under the Lynx Management Direction. It opened nearly 400,000 acres of land to precommercial thinning projects – projects that would be prohibited under the earlier map and the restrictions applicable to LAUs. Although the 2005 map was subjected to public comment prior to the approval of the Project, the map was never subjected to independent NEPA review, which would have required an analysis of the potential affects the removal of the LAUs would have on the lynx, its habitat, and the habitat of snowshoe hare. Such analysis is absent in this case. The absence of such analysis violates NEPA’s procedural requirements…
Further, “[t]he Court agrees with Plaintiffs that the failure to analyze the 2005 map under NEPA undermines the Forest Service’s decision under the ESA. And, although the Court does not reach Plaintiffs’ claims under NFMA, the danger that the Project does not comply with the Forest Plan is a real one.”
The Forest Service also failed to evaluate “whether the … elimination of 390,000 acres of land within the boundaries of LAUs i the 2005 map would adversely affect the lynx or its habitat. The failure to assess whether the adoption of the 2005 map would jeopardize the lynx or its habitat violated the ESA.”
“There can be no dispute that the Project itself is altering the physical landscape by removing tress on land that was previously subject to restrictions for the benefit of a protected species under the ESA. In the absence of a valid FONSI and biological assessment, the Court fails to grasp how the Project can continue.”
“Our challenge was based on the failure of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate all occupied and unoccupied areas that are essential to the conservation of the species as required by the Endangered Species Act and to base the this designation on the best scientific data available as required by that law,” said Garrity.
The Canada lynx is comparable to the bobcat in size and particularly distinguished by its long legs and large paws, which make it well-adapted to hunting in deep snow. It is highly dependent on snow-covered areas due to its specialized predator-prey relationship with the snowshoe hare – a species which, like the lynx, evolved to survive in areas that receive deep snow.
“The Split Creek proposal authorizes extensive pre-commercial thinning in occupied lynx habitat and in snowshoe hare habitat,” explained Dr. Sara Johnson, a former wildlife biologist for the Targhee National Forest and Director of Native Ecosystems Council. “The logging would have driven out snowshoe hare, which are the primary prey of lynx. Although these federal agencies are required by the Endangered Species Act to try and recover lynx populations, logging 7,000 acres of critical lynx habitat does just the opposite.”
Judge Dale’s order is here.