NINTH CIRCUIT STRIKES DOWN FOREST HEALTH PLAN
September 15, 2010 - For Immediate Release
DENVER, CO. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today struck down a forest health project despite the arguments by a Montana couple that lives year-round in Montana, near an area the U.S. Forest Service deemed to be at risk for dangerous fires. Although the three-judge panel upheld all other aspects of an October 2009 ruling by a Montana federal district court authorizing the Forest Service to implement its forest health project to reduce fire risk, the panel ruled that the Forest Service had failed to comply with its rules as to “elk cover.” Janet and Ronald Hartman, who live north of Wilsall, Montana, believe that the Forest Service project and parallel efforts by local entities and individuals are key to preventing catastrophic fires that would destroy forest resources, homes, and buildings and endanger the lives of residents and visitors, as well as firefighters. The Hartmans argued that the plan, which involves the Gallatin National Forest 20 miles northeast of Bozeman, meets all of the requirements of federal law. Earlier the Ninth Circuit had stayed the district court’s ruling.
“We are disappointed with the ruling because, given the risk to human life, the panel has placed form over substance,” said William Perry Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), which represents the Hartmans.
In May 2005, the Forest Service finished the Shields River Watershed Risk Assessment to evaluate the risk of wildfire and insect loss to some 44,000 acres in the Smith Creek/Shields River area of the Gallatin National Forest of Montana. The Forest Service—with comments from adjacent private homeowners and State, county, and local officials and groups—developed the Smith Creek Vegetation Treatment Project to address the dangerous fuel buildups and mitigate the risk of catastrophic wildfire. The Project will reduce fuel loads on a maximum of 1,110 acres, in 10 separate units. A local, quasi-governmental group was formed to provide grants to local landowners to conduct fuels reduction projects on private lands.
In July 2008, environmental groups challenged the Forest Service’s plan. Janet and Ronald Hartman intervened in the case. In October 2008, the Montana federal district court ruled for the Forest Service and the Hartmans regarding all claims except the mapping of key habitat components for elk, which was remanded to the Forest Service.
On November 20, 2008, the Forest Service issued a supplemental environmental assessment and a 30-day comment period was opened. On March 6, 2009, the Forest Service issued a Decision Notice/Finding of No Significant Impact approving the Smith Creek Vegetation Project. On June 5, 2009, environmental groups again sued.>/p>
Mountain States Legal Foundation, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest law firm dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system. Its offices are in suburban Denver, Colorado.
Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) is a nonprofit,
public interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right
to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and economic freedom. It is an Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) entity
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