Ninth Circuit Court Upholds Decision on Sierra Nevada Forest Plan

Federal Court Reaffirms Ruling that Forest Service Failed to Evaluate Impacts on Fish

Jun 20, 2012

Portland, OR - A ruling released today by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reaffirms the court’s original holding in February that approval of a 2004 regional forest plan covering 11.5 million acres over eleven Sierra Nevada national forests failed to analyze the adverse impacts of increased logging, road building and livestock grazing on a host of fish populations, many of which are in serious decline. This order denies the U.S. Forest Service’s petition for rehearing filed in April.

“With no less than California’s native fish and drinking water at stake, the court rightly responded to this challenge by confirming its original order,” said John Kober, Executive Director of the Pacific Rivers Council.  “The health of native fish and maintenance of clean, drinkable water require effective forest management; the application of this ruling can help ensure both are taken care of for generations to come.”

Legally, the agency is required to analyze its plan’s effects on fish species to the extent it is “reasonably possible.”   The Forest Service contended that it adequately analyzed the regional forest plan’s impacts on fish, including the nine that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.  The court was unconvinced, largely on the basis that more rigorous analysis was performed of prior such plans and because more thorough analysis was undertaken for other Sierra Nevadan species.

“Today the court reaffirmed that the Forest Service shirked its duty to tell the public up front specifically how its large-scale plans will affect sensitive fish species,” said PRC’s attorney, Brian Gaffney, “This is one case where law, public policy and common sense are in agreement.”

This confirmation of the original ruling is also legally significant because it rejected the government’s claim that Pacific Rivers Council does not have the legal right to sue the Forest Service over approval of its regional management plan because no actual harm is caused until specific projects are implemented under the plan.

The opinion can be accessed at: Opinion in Pacific Rivers Council v. USFS  (9th Circuit, June 20, 2012)

Contact: Kate Geller, (503) 228-3555 or


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