2012-02-04 "Court: Sierra logging plan left out impact on fish" by Bob Egelko from "San Francisco Chronicle"
The Bush administration's decision in 2004 to dramatically expand logging in Sierra forests throughout California, as a means of fire protection, failed to analyze the potential impact on numerous species of fish, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
The U.S. Forest Service violated environmental laws by omitting from its public report any reference to the effect of increased logging and road-building on fish in the mountain streams, including nine species listed as threatened or endangered, said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The 2-1 ruling does not require an immediate halt to any tree-cutting or other work authorized by the so-called 2004 Framework for 11.5 million acres in 11 national forests.
But it means the Obama administration, which is in the process of revising individual forest plans, will have to take a closer look at the impact of current and future Sierra projects on fish and watersheds, said the Pacific Rivers Council, which sued in 2005 to challenge the adequacy of the government's environmental report.
"The Forest Service shirked its duty to tell the public up front specifically how its large-scale plans will affect sensitive aquatic species," the council's lawyer, Brian Gaffney, said in a statement.
"The court's ruling means fish won't get short shrift on the next go-round," said Mary Scurlock, a consultant for the council.
The Forest Service declined to comment. Timber industry lawyers who supported the 2004 plan were unavailable for comment.
But the ruling dismayed a lawyer for the Quincy Library Group, a coalition of businesses, loggers and local environmentalists that is authorized by federal law to work on management plans for the Lassen and Plumas national forests and some Lake Tahoe-area woodlands.
"This ruling will probably delay the ability to thin the forests" and will increase the fire danger, said the attorney, Michael B. Jackson, who backed the 2004 Framework in court proceedings.
The framework more than tripled the amount of logging authorized by a plan adopted in the final weeks of the Clinton administration. It also allowed the cutting of larger trees and of more trees near streams, and greatly increased the previous plan's authorization for building and reconstruction of logging roads.
Federal law requires agencies to analyze, in public reports, the likely effect of projects they approve on wildlife and the environment.
In contrast to the Clinton administration, which provided 64 pages on the potential impacts of its plan on 34 fish species, the Forest Service "entirely failed to consider environmental consequences of the 2004 Framework on individual species of fish," Judge William Fletcher said in Friday's ruling.