BOISE, Idaho — The U.S. Forest Service is ignoring a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling by restarting a giant forest project in Idaho, say environmental groups that have filed another lawsuit seeking to stop the project a second time.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the other groups filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Idaho challenging the 125-square-mile (325-square-kilometer) project on the Payette National Forest.
The Forest Service and environmental groups agree the Lost Creek-Boulder Creek Landscape Restoration Project that includes logging, habitat restoration and recreational improvements is precisely the same as the one halted by the 9th Circuit Court's ruling against the Forest Service in August 2018.
“It seems almost unbelievable, but the new Lost Creek-Boulder Creek decision by the Forest Service basically tells the Ninth Circuit the agency has no intention of complying with the court’s order,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
The Forest Service said its new approval decision made Nov. 1 based on a clarified environmental review, which went through a public comment period, is entirely new and removes the process from the 9th Circuit Court ruling involving the previous environmental review.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which represents federal agencies in lawsuits, didn’t respond to an inquiry Tuesday from The Associated Press.
Payette National Forest officials didn’t immediately return calls from the AP. Erin Phelps, a district ranger on the forest, said in early November that the agency was working quickly to resume work on the project.
The project has a combination of commercial logging, prescribed burning and recreation improvements such as additional trail maintenance and installing bathrooms. Also planned are habitat improvements for federally protected bull trout and northern Idaho ground squirrel.
But the environmental groups say the project comes at the expense of wildlife habitat and turns the public forest into a tree farm to benefit timber interests.
The project that initially started in 2015 has the backing of the Payette Forest Coalition, a diverse collaboration of individuals and groups, including environmentalists, which intervened in the court case on the side of the Forest Service.
A U.S. District Court in Idaho ruled in favor of the Forest Service, but the 9th Circuit Court reversed that ruling.
The appeals court didn't delve into whether the project was good or bad. The court ruled that parts of the project weren't in line with the 2003 Payette National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan that had gone through a public environmental review process.
The court took issue with, among other things, what it said was a Forest Service change in how large sections of the forest would be managed when it came to logging and restoration.
The environmental groups contend that allowing the project to go forward violates the 2003 management plan and would mean such publicly-approved national forest plans are meaningless.