June 18, 2013

A victory for timber harvesting

By Damien M. Schiff Senior Attorney

Last week, the Ninth Circuit ruled in Conservation Congress v. United States Forest Service that the district court properly denied the environmentalists’ request for a preliminary injunction to stop a timber harvest in Northern spotted owl habitat in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.  The environmentalists argued that the Service’s analysis of the proposed project’s impacts on the owl was defective because it did not consider the project’s cumulative impacts, including those impacts traceable to other federal actions.

The Ninth Circuit rejected the environmentalists’ interpretation of the statutory and regulatory obligation to assess cumulative impacts.  The Court held that, unlike the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act requires a cumulative assessment only of state and local actions, not other federal actions.  Further, the Court held that even this truncated analysis is not required for informal consultation, which was as far as the agencies here got.  For the same reason, the Court held that agency documents prepared under the aegis of informal consultation—such as a biological assessment—do not require any cumulative effects analysis.

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