Fishlake thinning plans upheld by appeals court
A federal appeals court has upheld a proposed Forest Service thinning and timber sale project on the Fishlake National Forest that seeks to curb spruce beetle infestation.
A local environmental group, the Utah Environmental Congress, challenged the project on the grounds that the Forest Service acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" by failing to consider effects on fish and wildlife in implementing the Seven Mile Project, thus violating federal environmental laws.
But a district court upheld the Forest Service proposal, and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the decision, ruling that the agency's 123-acre project met federal environmental guidelines.
"We've felt strongly all along that this is a good project which promotes sound stewardship of the forest and meets our obligations, both procedural and substantive. The 10th Circuit Court decision supports this view," Fishlake National Forest supervisor Mary Erickson said in a statement.
The Forest Service approved the Seven Mile Project in 2004, doing so through the use of a "categorical exclusion" - which allows smaller projects to move forward without a detailed study so long as it is determined that it has no "significant impact" on the environment.
The purpose of the project, Fishlake National Forest officials said, was to prevent spruce beetle infestation from spreading into adjacent stands of Englemann spruce and killing them.
The Utah Environmental Congress filed suit, arguing that the project violated a number of environmental and regulatory provisions that would result in significant effects on the larger forest area. The district and appeals courts both concluded that the use of the categorical exclusion was properly implemented.
Kevin Mueller, executive director of the group, says his organization may ask for a rehearing before the 10th Circuit, arguing that the district and appeals courts used out-of-date Forest Management Act regulations in reaching their decision.