A federal judge on Oct. 4 issued a summary judgment ruling dismissing an environmental group’s lawsuit against the North Fork Mill Creek “A to Z” forest health project on the Colville National Forest. The decision marks another legal victory for the collaborative project, and the unique public-private partnership that is working to improve forest health in Northeastern Washington.
The American Forest Resource Council, which intervened in the case on behalf of Stevens County, Pend Oreille County and the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, cheered the decision by U.S. District Court Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson.
“We are pleased that Judge Peterson recognized this important forest restoration project complied with federal environmental law,” said AFRC General Counsel Lawson Fite. “The ruling confirms that the collaborative 54,000-acre ‘A to Z’ project will appropriately restore the health of forests on the Colville National Forest, while enhancing recreation and wildlife habitat and supporting jobs in local communities.”
In her opinion, Judge Peterson found the environmental group did not have standing to challenge the bidding process for the forest project, which was awarded to Vaagen Brothers Lumber of Colville, WA. Even if the group had standing, the court determined the process was fair and open, and there was no conflict of interest from Vaagen Brothers paying for a third-party contractor to conduct environmental analysis and assessment work on the project.
Judge Peterson determined the U.S. Forest Service provided adequate oversight of the third-party contractor, and sufficiently analyzed potential impacts to the environment and vulnerable wildlife species, among other findings. She also found that the Forest Service did not need to combine the analysis of this project with another nearby project that was developed later.
The Oct. 4 ruling is the third significant legal victory for the A to Z project. Last year Judge Peterson denied the same litigant group’s attempt to obtain a temporary halt to the project. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the earlier decision, finding the project “was the result of a multi-year collaboration among elected officials, environmental organizations, Native American tribes, the timber industry, and community organizations.”
“This is another major victory for the innovative ‘A to Z’ and forest restoration on federal lands,” Fite said. “AFRC was proud to join our partners and defend the Forest Service in this case. Our industry will continue to stand up for science-based forest management and productive collaboration on the Colville National Forest and throughout the Pacific Northwest.”