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Federal judge blocks enforcement of US national forest regulation

[JURIST] A federal district judge in San Francisco has ruled that the US Forest Service [official website; JURIST news archive] violated environmental laws when it promulgated a 2005 regulation governing the management of national forests. On motions for summary judgment in combined lawsuits brought by environmental groups, US District Judge Phyllis Hamilton [official profile] of the Northern District of California Friday enjoined the Forest Service [opinion, PDF] from enforcing the rule "until it has fully complied" with the Endangered Species Act [EPA summary; text] and the National Environmental Policy Act [EPA summary; text]. Hamilton found that the 2005 regulation [text; summary], which gave national forest managers more discretion in allowing logging, mining and other activities, had been adopted without adequate procedural safeguards, environmental reviews and public comment. Hamilton wrote:

[T]he agency was required to undertake some type of consultation, informal or otherwise, prior to making a conclusive determination that there would be no effect [on endangered species]. Given the 2005 Rule's potential indirect effects on listed species, combined with the USDA's lack of documentation in support of their "no effect" determination, the failure to consult and/or prepare any type of biological analysis in conjunction with the 2005 Rule was arbitrary and capricious.
At the same time, Hamilton declined to reinstate a 1982 regulation, as the environmental groups had sought.

Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife [advocacy website], one of the plaintiff groups, praised Hamilton's ruling [press release], saying:
The Bush administration reversed decades of progress in managing national forests, without considering the impacts on wildlife and the environment. The administration also cut the public out of the loop when considering these large-scale changes to how our nation's forests are managed.
US Justice Department officials are considering an appeal. The New York Times has more. The San Francisco Chronicle has local coverage.

This report was prepared in partnership with the Pittsburgh Journal of Environmental and Public Health Law.

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