FRESNO – The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California recently granted a motion by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) for summary judgment in a suit claiming USFS ignored proper procedure when it authorized an extensive logging operation near the Giant Sequoia National Monument.
In his July 9 ruling, U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill found that the actions of the defendants – USFS and Kevin Elliot, forest supervisor of the Sequoia National Forest – were within the legal framework of the department.
However, O'Neill also granted a motion by plaintiffs Earth Island Institute and Sequoia ForestKeeper to amend their lawsuit, ruling that pertinent information had been inadvertently left off of their initial suit.
O’Neill said, “The crux of the dispute between the parties is whether the removal and commercial sale of hazard trees along 52.1 miles of road may properly be classified as ‘road maintenance.’”
The case involves a strip of land affected by the 2016 Cedar Fire that burned 29,000 acres of forest. The USFS is trying to mitigate some of the damage, and its so-called “Bull Run” project has been lumped into those efforts. Workers plan to fell and remove trees along the 52.1 mile stretch of road.
Conflict arose because the USFS chose not to complete an environmental assessment (EA) for the Bull Run project after determining it wasn’t necessary. The plaintiffs argued that this was a mistake and that there are multiple wildlife species that may be affected.
Defendants countered that a categorical exclusion (CE) applies to the project, meaning that they found that the potential stress on the environment would not be severe.
O’Neill agreed with the defendants. “The court is persuaded that this project to maintain safe roadways can proceed under the road maintenance CE," he said. "By its terms, the CE involves road maintenance, and abating hazard trees that may fall on a road fits within the general scope of the CE.”
Both the plaintiffs and the defendants filed motions for summary judgment, with the plaintiffs’ request being rejected.
The plaintiffs’ additional request to amend their complaint was approved.