Case Dismissed Against Post-Fire Projects on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests

A lawsuit, challenging two post-fire projects on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests (IPNF), has been dismissed  by the plaintiff after courts refused its requests for an injunction.  The group attempted to stop work on both the Tower Fire Salvage Project and Grizzly Fire Salvage Restoration Project, which the U.S. Forest Service brought to implementation within nine months after wildfires in 2016 burned 47,500 acres in the IPNF.  The agency expedited the projects after obtaining Emergency Situation Determinations (ESDs) from the Chief of the Forest Service.

During the litigation process, the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) submitted amicus briefs, in both the District of Idaho and the Ninth Circuit, on behalf of the Panhandle Forest Collaborative, Bonner County (ID), Mineral County (MT), Pend Oreille County (WA), and AFRC.  The amicus brief highlighted the collaborative support behind the projects that is unusual for salvage projects.  Diverse interests including industry, local government, and conservationists worked together to develop the projects and support their implementation.  Judge Winmill denied the litigant’s request for a preliminary injunction in May 2017, and the Ninth Circuit agreed in January 2018.

The post-fire projects were designed to produce up to 55 mmbf in ten timber sales.  The sales were purchased by AFRC members Idaho Forest Group, Tricon Timber, and Vaagen Bros. Lumber.  AFRC argued the timber volume is essential to AFRC member operations and to support the economies of northwest Montana, northern Idaho, and northeast Washington.

A serial litigant group filed a lawsuit claiming that the ESDs for the projects violate federal regulations, the Forest Service took insufficient public comment, and the Forest Service improperly failed to prepare an EIS due to controversy about post-fire logging.

The Ninth Circuit acknowledged the strong public support for the projects, determined that carefully-designed post-fire projects are an important tool for the Forest Service, and the court recognized the body of science suggesting post-fire treatment is needed to restore forested conditions and prevent future fires.  The Ninth Circuit also approved the use of Emergency Situation Determinations to quickly move the projects forward.

“The Tower and Grizzly projects are great examples of how land managers should respond to increasingly common fire events.  AFRC appreciates the support of our coalition partners in supporting these projects, including Pend Oreille County, Bonner County, Mineral County, and the members of the Panhandle Forest Collaborative,” said AFRC General Counsel Lawson Fite.