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Idaho Sporting Congress v. Thomas

 

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This case arose out of the preparation of two timber sales in the Miners Creek and West Camas Creek watersheds of the Targhee National Forest in southeastern Idaho by the United States Forest Service (USFS or Service). USFS prepared an environmental assessment (EA) for the Miners Creek timber sale, which proposed to harvest 3.1 million board feed (MMbf) of timber from the Miners Creek and West Camas Creek watersheds. On June 30, 1993, the Forest Supervisor issued a decision notice and finding of no significant impact (DN/FONSI) approving the sale. Plaintiffs Idaho Sporting Congress (ISC) opposed and administratively appealed the sale, but the Regional Forester nonetheless approved the sale on April 29, 1994. The Service subsequently proposed a second timber sale, the Camas Creek timber sale, in July 1996. USFS proposed to sell 7.2 MMbf from the West Camas Creek watershed, the same watershed in which it proposed the Miners Creek sale. USFS prepared another EA for the Camas Creek sale, but did not supplement the Miners Creek EA to reflect the Camas Creek sale.

The plaintiffs argued that USFS violated the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)[2] with respect to water quality, fisheries, and cumulative impacts by offering the Camas Creek sale without preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Miners Creek and Camas Creek timber sales. The plaintiffs also alleged violations of Idaho water quality standards and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA).[3] The plaintiffs sued USFS in the Idaho District Court and moved for summary judgment on their claims. USFS cross-moved for summary judgement, and the district court granted this motion. Plaintiffs then appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

First, appellants alleged that USFS had violated NEPA by failing to address the impact that the proposed timber sales would have on the water quality of Miners and Camas Creeks. In preparing the Miners Creek sale, USFS relied on a 1990 internal report that did not conduct site-specific scientific analysis, and USFS did not make the report available to the public for review at the time it proposed the sale. USFS claimed that this report was bolstered by a 1985 report prepared by the same expert, which showed that logging in the watershed had not impaired water quality.

The court rejected this argument, holding that NEPA required USFS to release the 1990 report to the public for comment, as well as the baseline data on which the report was based. Furthermore, because the 1985 report was different in focus and scope than the 1990 report, the Service’s decision to implement the sales based on these reports was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).[4] Additionally, USFS argued that the mitigation measures proposed for the two timber sales would compensate for any adverse effects from the timber harvest. The court rejected this argument as well, holding that a “mere listing” of mitigation measures did not constitute the “reasoned decision required by NEPA.”[5] The court directed USFS to prepare an EIS for the Miners and Camas Creek timber sales and investigate the impacts that those sales could have on water quality.

The appellants next alleged that USFS violated NEPA’s disclosure requirements when the agency failed to survey and disclose the results of surveys for trout within the planning area for the Miners and Camas Creek timber sales. USFS had designated trout within the Targhee National Forest as a management indicator species (MIS) pursuant to regulations promulgated under NFMA, and was therefore required to survey for the species. After reviewing the Miners Creek EA, the court held that the service failed to make a full disclosure of the impacts to trout, and that an adequate study and disclosure of the impacts to aquatic management indicator species as a result of the sales should be made in the forthcoming EIS.

Third, appellants maintained that the Service’s cumulative impacts analysis for the two timber sales was inadequate. Specifically, ISC claimed that a supplemental EA or EIS was required to address the impacts of the Miners Creek sale on the Camas Creek sale. USFS claimed that although the Miners Creek EA did not address the impacts from the Camas Creek sale, the Camas Creek EA had in fact addressed the effects of the Miners Creek timber sale. The court noted that the standard for preparing a supplemental EA or EIS is whether “significant changes in the proposed action” has occurred.[6] Because no such changes had occurred, the Miners Creek EA adequately addressed the cumulative effects from the two sales. Although no EIS was required to address the cumulative impacts of the two sales, the court noted in dicta that this analysis was meager and that additional analysis should appear in the EIS.

Fourth, the court addressed ISC’s claims that USFS was required abide by water quality standards that the appellants believed are more stringent than the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).[7] The Idaho Code contains an antidegradation provision that forbids any deterioration of water quality,[8] and the Clean Water Act requires federal agencies to comply with water quality standards set by the states.[9] The state code contains two contradictory sections: one section provides that no action should deprive the water body of its existing instream uses (the antidegradation provision),[10] but another section explicitly states that the state code is not to impose stricter water quality standards[11] than the Clean Water Act already imposes.

Because this was an issue of first impression, the court looked to the plain meaning of the statute versus its legislative intent in order to determine which provision would control. ISC urged that the plain meaning of the statute should control, which would require USFS to demonstrate that the timber sales would have no effect on the water quality in the watershed. The court rejected this contention and held instead that the legislative intent controlled, and that USFS was only required to meet the standards set forth in the Clean Water Act. However, because USFS had not yet conducted adequate studies on the water quality in the watershed, the court declined to determine whether Idaho’s antidegradation policy had been violated by the degradation of water quality in the area stemming from the timber harvest.

Finally, the court addressed the appellants’ NFMA claims. Specifically, appellants alleged that the USFS violated NFMA when it 1) failed to monitor the population trends of the trout MIS in relation to its habitat,[12] and 2) failed to monitor the trout as required by the Targhee National Forest Land Management Plan (TNFLMP). First, the court deferred to the USFS’s interpretation of NFMA’s requirements and noted that it was not arbitrary and capricious to use the amount of habitat for a given species as a proxy for actual populations of that species. When USFS prepared the EIS, the court explained, the agency would be able to account for the effects of timber harvest on trout by determining the amount of habitat–rather than the number of individuals–affected by the harvest.

Second, the court rejected the appellants’ argument that USFS had violated NFMA’s consistency requirements[13] when the agency failed to survey for trout populations, as required by the TNFLMP. The court again deferred to USFS’s interpretation of the TNFLMP, noting that the TNFLMP allows for monitoring of habitat quantity as well as quality, and it was within USFS’s discretion to decide how best to achieve this requirement. The court directed USFS to address the suitability of trout habitat in the forthcoming EIS.


[1] For further discussion of Idaho Sporting Congress v. Thomas, see Susan Jane M. Brown, Striking the Balance: The Tale of Eight Ninth Circuit Timber Sale Cases, 29 Envtl. L. __ (1999).

[2] National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4370d (1994 & Supp. III 1997).

[3] National Forest Management Act of 1976, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1600-1614 (1994 & Supp. III 1997) (amending Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, Pub. L. No. 93-378, 88 Stat. 476).

[4] 5 U.S.C. §§ 551-559, 701-706, 1305, 3105, 3344, 4301, 5335, 5372, 7521 (1994 & Supp. III 1997).

[5] Idaho Sporting Congress v. Thomas, 137 F.3d 1146, 1151 (9th Cir. 1998).

[6] Price Rd. Neighborhood Ass’n v. United States Dep’t of Transp., 113 F.3d 1505, 1509 (9th Cir. 1997).

[7] Federal Water Pollution Control Act, 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251-1387 (1994 & Supp. III 1997).

[8] Idaho Code § 39-3603 (1998).

[9] 33 U.S.C. § 1323(a) (1994).

[10] Idaho Code § 39-3603 (1998).

[11] Id. § 39-3601.

[12] 36 C.F.R. § 219.19(a)(1)-(7) (1998).

[13] 16 U.S.C. § 1604(i) (1994).

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