VNRC Wins Important National Victory for Wildlife, Forests

VNRC Wins Important National Victory for Wildlife, Forests

April 2007

The nation’s national forest lands and wildlife are safer now, thanks in large part to a lawsuit filed by VNRC and other leading environmental groups. In an exciting victory, a federal court judge on March 30, 2007 put the brakes on the Bush administration’s implementation of its environmentally harmful forest planning regulations. Judge Phyllis Hamilton sided with VNRC and other environmental groups, who filed suit over the Forest Service’s 2005 forest planning regulations. The judge ruled that the regulations violated the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedures Act. The decision has temporarily shut down the Bush administration’s attempt to sidestep important natural resource protections on national forests, including the requirement to maintain viable populations of wildlife.

“This is great news for wildlife,” said VNRC’s Forest Program Director Jamey Fidel. “Now we hope the Forest Service will go back to its policy of ensuring that the wildlife populations remain viable on our national forests.”

VNRC joined the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the Wilderness Society in filing suit in 2004 after the Bush administration abruptly changed policy on how the Forest Service manages our national forests. Early in the Bush administration’s tenure, the Forest Service abandoned a set of environmentally protective planning regulations that embodied many years of work and public input. Instead, they rewrote the regulations to accomplish in their own words a “paradigm shift in land management planning.” This “paradigm shift” stripped many of the concrete standards for resource protection, including the requirement to maintain viable populations of wildlife and to perform environmental impact statements when writing national forest management plans.

At issue in the suit was the way the Bush administration imposed the new regulations. The Forest Service issued the new planning rules without providing adequate public notice and comment, without consulting the Fish and Wildlife Service regarding affects to endangered or threatened species, and without conducting an environmental assessment of the effects of the new planning regulations. These procedural violations led the court to halt the implementation of the Bush administration’s new planning regulations until such violations are corrected.

The judge’s decision leaves it up to the Forest Service to determine which planning procedures it will implement in the absence of the 2005 planning regulations. Here in Vermont, the implication of this decision is not profound since the Green Mountain National Forest finished its recent forest plan revision in accordance with the 1982 forest planning regulations, which ensures standards for resource protection including maintaining viable populations of wildlife.

The broader implication of the decision is the Bush administration will need to study and consider the environmental impacts of stripping resource protection standards from our nation’s forests before implementing its “paradigm shift” in land management planning. This is good news for wildlife and the integrity of our valuable public lands.

VNRC would like to thank Earthjustice for providing counsel in the case. Please contact Jamey Fidel, VNRC Forest and Biodiversity Program Director and Legal Counsel, at 223-2328 ext. 117 with any questions.