HELENA – A federal appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit that challenged a timber sale on the Lolo National Forest, an element of the Healthy Forests Initiative established by the Bush administration.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the suit on Friday by the Missoula-based WildWest Institute, formerly the Ecology Center Inc., and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies in Helena. The suit challenged the Camp Salvage timber sale.
A three-judge panel said that under a March ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, the plaintiffs lacked the standing to sue because the project named in their lawsuit has been completed.
In the Supreme Court ruling, the justices had ruled 5-4 that environmental groups can challenge individual projects, but lack the necessary standing to overturn an entire U.S. Forest Service regulation.
The 2004 Camp Salvage sale was administered under federal “categorical exclusion” rules enunciated by the Bush administration to exempt the sale of dead or dying timber on 250 acres or fewer from environmental reviews and public-comment requirements. The exclusion exempts a project from the requirement of a full environmental analysis or environmental impact statement.
“We have to start over,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Matt Kenna with the Western Environmental Law Center in Durango, Colo. “We’ll be looking for a new case at some point to challenge those (categorical exclusion) regulations in the right context,” Kenna said.
Court rulings in the Camp Salvage case have followed the principle of “You’ve got to have a real dog in the fight,” said Ann Forest Burns, vice president of the Portland, Ore.-based American Forest Resource Council, a forest industry group.
Barbara Beckes, planning program officer on the Lolo National Forest, said the Friday dismissal was expected because the entire timber harvest in the Camp Salvage sale had been completed by the time of the high court’s decision.
Even before the Supreme Court ruling, “the whole project had been completed and there was nothing to rule on,” she said.
Michael Garrity, executive director of the plaintiff, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, also said the 9th Circuit ruling was no surprise in light of the earlier court opinion but said they planned to challenge the exemption elsewhere.
“If it’s a good project, it should stand up to review under NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act),” he said. “If it isn’t, they shouldn’t go forward with it.”
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