Wildlands Defense et al v. Seesholtz et al
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER. NOW THEREFORE IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, that plaintiff's Motion for Temporary Restraining Order 4 is DENIED. Signed by Judge B. Lynn Winmill. (caused to be mailed to non Registered Participants at the addresses listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF) by (st)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF IDAHO
WILDLANDS DEFENSE; ALLIANCE
FOR THE WILD ROCKIES; and
NATIVE ECOSYSTEMS COUNCIL
Case No. 1:17-cv-408-BLW
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND
CECILIA SEESHOLTZ, in her official
capacity as Boise National Forest
Supervisor; TONY TOOKE, in his
official capacity as Chief of the United
States Forest Service; UNITED STATES
FOREST SERVICE; and UNITED
STATES FISH AND WILDLIFE
The Court has before it a motion for a temporary restraining order filed by
plaintiffs Wildlands Defense, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and Native Ecosystems
Council. The plaintiffs seek to enjoin two salvage logging projects in the Boise National
Forest. Because some of the logging is scheduled to begin tomorrow, the Court must
consider this motion on an extremely expedited basis with no oral argument and little
time for reflection. Accordingly, this decision is entitled to a limited precedential value.
For the reasons discussed below, the motion is denied.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 1
In 2016, the Pioneer Fire burned over 190,000 acres in the Boise National Forest.
Fueled by hot and dry conditions, the Pioneer Fire burned for more than four months,
causing significant damage to an area frequently used for recreation. The blackened
forest areas included an extensive network of backcountry yurts, trails for motorized and
nonmotorized use, and a road system that connects to areas north such as Bear Valley and
In September 2016, the Forest Service began working with interested parties to
devise a restoration plan. In this collaborative effort, the Forest Service met with state,
local, and tribal government officials, as well as groups representing timber, recreation,
and environmental interests.
Importantly, the Boise Forest Coalition was involved with the Forest Service in
the planning process. The Boise Forest Coalition is a group of environmentalists, timber
interests, private citizens, and governmental officials. They make recommendations to
the Forest Service based on a consensus of their members. Ultimately, the Boise Forest
Coalition approved both projects at issue in this case.
The two projects are known as the North Pioneer Project and the South Pioneer
Project. The project areas were separated based on the watershed basin: The North
Pioneer Project will be conducted in a watershed that flows into the Payette River, while
the South Pioneer Project will be conducted in a watershed that flows into the Boise
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 2
River. The two areas also have a different mix of recreational, social, and economic
needs that warranted a separate analysis.
The Forest Service designed both projects to: (1) remove hazard trees that posed a
risk of falling across roads and trails, and injuring the recreating public; (2) restore forest
health, and specifically restore conifer species such as ponderosa pine; (3) improve
watershed conditions by decommissioning unauthorized roads currently degrading
watershed conditions, and (4) conduct salvage logging before the dead timber deteriorates
and loses its economic value. The profit made from the salvage logging will allow the
Forest Service to fund the first three purposes listed above.
In both projects, the Forest Service will log about 70 million board feet of dead
trees and hazard trees. Hazard trees are those trees that are likely to fall across a road or
public area, restrict transportation, or cause injury to the public or property. This salvage
logging would occur on 7.8% of the area burned in the Pioneer Fire. About 65% of the
logging in the North Pioneer Project involves the removal of hazard trees, and about 56%
of the logging in the South Pioneer Project will involve the removal of hazard trees.
Both project areas contain Bull Trout and Canada Lynx, listed species under the
Endangered Species Act (ESA), and contain their critical habitat. The Forest Service
drafted a Biological Assessment (BA) concluding that neither project would adversely
affect either species or their critical habitat. The Forest Service then requested that the
Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) review that determination, and the agency agreed to do
so. On May 23, 2017, the FWS issued its determination concluding that “the Service
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 3
concurs with the Forest Service’s finding that the two projects are not likely to adversely
affect bull trout, bull trout critical habitat, and Canada Lynx.” See SP050188;
Two days later, on May 25, 2017, the Forest Service Regional Forester requested
that the Forest Service Chief issue an Emergency Situation Determination (ESD) so that
the two projects could begin immediately without waiting for the 90-day objection
period. To issue an ESD, the Forest Chief must find that the immediate implementation
of the project was necessary for “for relief from hazards threatening human health and
safety” or to avoid “a loss of commodity value sufficient to jeopardize the agency’s
ability to accomplish project objectives directly related to resource protection or
restoration.” See 36 C.F.R. §§ 218.21(b).
Here, the Forest Chief found that both grounds applied: (1) The burned trees
constituted a hazard to the public and to reforestation efforts, and (2) delay would result
in deterioration of the trees, causing a loss in value of over $1 million and jeopardizing
the reforestation plans contained in both Projects that would be funded by those revenues.
NP079084; SP079479. The Forest Service Chief issued the ESDs on May 31, 2017.
On June 23, 2017, the Forest Service issued its Environmental Assessment for the
North Pioneer Project, concluding that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was not
necessary because the project would not have a significant impact on the environment.
The same decision was reached for the South Pioneer Project on July 10, 2017.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 4
The salvage logging began in July of 2017. About 14 different timber sales were
involved in the two projects. A few of those projects have been completed, while others
are due to begin tomorrow.
Standard Under the Administrative Procedure Act
Plaintiffs’ claims are reviewed under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”),
5 U.S.C. § 701, et seq. Under the APA, an agency action must be upheld unless it is
found to be arbitrary or capricious. 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). To decide if an agency action
is arbitrary and capricious, the Court must determine whether the agency considered the
relevant factors and articulated a rational connection between the facts found and the
choices made. Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Ass'ns, Inc. v. NMFS, 265 F.3d
1028, 1034 (9th Cir.2001). Judicial review under this standard is to be “searching and
careful,” but remains “narrow,” and a court should not substitute its judgment for that of
the agency. Mt. Graham Red Squirrel v. Espy, 986 F.2d 1568, 1571 (9th Cir.1993).
Standard for Temporary Restraining Order
The analysis required for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary
injunction are “substantially identical.” Stuhlbarg Int’l Sales Co. v. John D. Brush &
Co., 240 F.3d 832, 839 n. 7 (9th Cir. 2001). The party seeking an injunction must show:
(1) a likelihood of success on the merits; (2) a likelihood of irreparable harm in the
absence of preliminary relief; (3) that the balance of equities/hardship tips in their favor;
and (4) that an injunction is in the public interest. Winter v. Natural Res. Def Council,
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 5
555 U.S. 7, 20-23 (2008). “[S]erious questions on the merits and a balance of hardships
that tips sharply towards the plaintiff can support issuance of a preliminary injunction, so
long as the plaintiff also shows that there is a likelihood of irreparable injury and that the
injunction is in the public interest.” All. for the Wild Rockies v. Cottrell, 632 F.3d 1127,
1135 (9th Cir. 2011). This “sliding scale approach” allows a party to make a lesser
showing of likelihood of success provided he will suffer substantial harm in the absence
of relief. Id. at 1133. Under this approach, however, “serious questions going to the
merits” requires more than showing that “success is more likely than not;” it requires a
plaintiff to demonstrate a “substantial case for relief on the merits.” See Leiva-Perez v.
Holder, 640 F.3d 962, 967-68 (9th Cir. 2011).
Likelihood of Success on the Merits -- ESA
Plaintiffs argue that the Forest Service made its decision to seek an ESD on the
two projects before it received the FWS concurrence that the projects would not
adversely affect the Bull Trout and Canada Lynx. The plaintiffs argue that this violates
the ESA’s mandate that agencies “shall not make any irreversible or irretrievable
commitment of resources” during the consultation process. See 16 U.S.C. § 1536(d).
The record shows, however, that the Forest Service did not seek an ESD
determination from the Forest Chief until two days after the FWS sent its concurrence
letter, as fully discussed above. The Court cannot find that plaintiffs are likely to succeed
on this issue.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 6
Likelihood of Success on the Merits – NFMA
The National Forest Management Act (NFMA) requires that management
activities within the National Forest must be consistent with Forest Plans. See 16 U.S.C.
§ 1604. Plaintiffs argue that the two projects will violate the soil conditions standards set
forth in the Boise National Forest Plan. That Plan sets a standard for soil conditions
affected by management activities like salvage logging:
In an activity area where existing conditions of [soil] DD [detrimental
disturbance] exceed 15 percent of the area, management activities shall
include mitigation and restoration so that DD levels are moved back toward
15 percent or less following completion of the activities.
NP22512. Plaintiffs point to statements in the EAs of both projects stating that
many units within the project areas will exceed 15% soil DD “immediately
following salvage harvest activities.”
The Forest Service discussed this issue at length in its EAs for both
projects. For example, in the North Pioneer Project, the EA estimated that the
fire resulted in soil DD exceeding 15% in 55 of the 57 harvest units. NP88541.
For the South Pioneer Project, the fire resulted in soil DD exceeding 15% in 89
of the 93 harvest units. SP52742-43. The Forest Service then evaluated the
impact of restoration and reclamation efforts contained in the two projects, and
concluded that they would reduce the soil DD to under 15% in all the harvest
units within the next 10 years. NP88541; SP79947. The 10-year time frame
was used because the restoration efforts – restoring skid trails and roads used to
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 7
facilitate the salvage logging – would obviously continue for many years past the
logging itself, which would be largely completed by 2018.
The EAs both concluded that this complies with the Boise National Forest
Plan provision, quoted above, stating that “management activities shall include
mitigation and restoration so that DD levels are moved back toward 15 percent
or less following completion of the activities” (emphasis added). Applied here,
the Forest Service interprets the Plan provision to mean that soil DD should be
below 15% not when the salvage logging is completed, but when the extensive
and long-term restoration efforts are completed.
Plaintiffs take issue with this interpretation of Forest Service regulations,
but the agency’s “interpretation and implementation of its own forest plan is
entitled to substantial deference.” Great Old Broads for Wilderness v. Kimbell,
709 F.3d 836 (9th Cir. 2013). The Forest Service’s reading of the Boise National
Forest Plan provision at issue here is reasonable and entitled to substantial
deference. The Court cannot conclude that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on this
Likelihood of Success on the Merits – NEPA
The plaintiffs claim that they are likely to succeed on the issue whether the Forest
Service violated NEPA by failing to prepare an EIS. It is unreasonable for the Forest
Service to fail to prepare an EIS if “substantial questions exist” whether a proposed
action “may have a significant effect on the environment.” N.R.D.C. v. Winter, 502 F.3d
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 8
859, 867 (9th Cir.2007). The Forest Service must provide convincing reasons as to why
the proposed timber sale will not have a significant impact on the environment. Ctr. for
Biological Diversity v. Nat. Highway Traffic Safety Comm'n, 538 F.3d 1172, 1220 (9th
Cir.2008). “The statement of reasons is crucial to determining whether the agency took a
‘hard look’ at the potential environmental impact of a project.” Native Ecosystems
Council v. Tidwell, 599 F.3d 926, 937 (9th Cir.2010).
Whether a project’s effects are significant “requires consideration of context and
intensity.” Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Nat'l Highway Traffic Safety Admin., 538 F.3d
1172, 1185 (9th Cir. 2008); see also 40 C.F.R. § 1508.27. Context refers to the scope of
the agency action. Id. Intensity refers to the “severity of impact, which includes both
beneficial and adverse impacts, the degree to which the proposed action affects public
health or safety, the degree to which the effects on the quality of the human environment
are likely to be highly controversial, the degree to which the possible effects on the
human environment are highly uncertain or involve unique or unknown risks, and
whether the action [involves] cumulatively significant impacts.” Id. at 1185-1186.
In reviewing the decision not to prepare an EIS under the arbitrary and capricious
standard, this Court must ask whether the agency has taken a “hard look” at the
consequences of its proposed action, based its decision on consideration of the relevant
factors, and provided a convincing statement of reasons to explain why a project’s
impacts are insignificant. Native Ecosystems Council v. U.S. Forest Serv., 428 F.3d
1233, 1239 (9th Cir. 2005).
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 9
In examining the context element, it is important that the logging will take place in
a relatively small area. The two projects will involve only 7.8% of the Pioneer Fire burn
and only 0.67% of the Boise National Forest’s total area.
Turning to the intensity element, the plaintiffs have argued that salvage logging
does not generally promote forest health, and they cite several studies and expert reports
backing that argument. But the Forest Service considered many of those same studies.
For example, in the South Pioneer Project EA, the Forest Service evaluates the studies by
Lindenmayer, Karr, and Beschta (also cited by plaintiffs) discussing the ecological
effects of post-fire salvage logging in the Pacific Northwest. SP079827. The Forest
Service came to a different conclusion about the effectiveness of salvage logging,
primarily because these two projects are small, the potential hazards from falling trees are
substantial, and the potential impacts are reduced through adoption of mitigation
measures. “[A]n agency is entitled to wide discretion in assessing the scientific evidence,
so long as it takes a hard look at the issues and responds to reasonable opposing
viewpoints.” Earth Island Inst. v. U.S. Forest Serv., 351 F.3d 1291, 1301 (9th Cir. 2003).
The EAs contain lengthy discussions of the environmental impacts of the two
projects. The Court cannot conclude that it is likely that plaintiffs will be successful in
arguing that the Forest Service failed to take the required “hard look” at the two projects,
as required by NEPA.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 10
Because the Court cannot find that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits,
and cannot find that the plaintiffs have raised serious questions on the merits, the Court
will deny the motion for TRO. The parties may contact the Court’s Clerk, Jamie Bracke
(Jamie_bracke@id.uscourts.gov) to schedule a hearing on the motion for preliminary
injunction if necessary.
In accordance with the Memorandum Decision set forth above,
NOW THEREFORE IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, that plaintiff’s Motion for
Temporary Restraining Order (docket no. 4) is DENIED.
DATED: November 14, 2017
B. Lynn Winmill
United States District Court
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 11
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?