Federal Judge Denies Request to Halt Brebner Flat Project on Idaho Panhandle National Forest

On July 13, Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho denied a motion for preliminary injunction against the Brebner Flat Project on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, allowing the forest health project to proceed.  With support from the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) and its attorneys, AFRC member Stimson Lumber intervened in the litigation in support of the Forest Service.   Stimson has purchased timber associated with the project.

The Brebner Flat Project was developed to improve the forest’s resiliency to drought, insects and disease.  The project includes logging treatments to reduce the risks of severe fire and provides timber to support local economies.   As the project includes Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) near the town of Avery, Shoshone County has identified the project area as an area of concern in its Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

Logging and prescribed burning are planned to occur on approximately 1,700 acres, or 14 percent of the 12,000-acre project area.  Approximately 10.5 miles of roads will be constructed or reconstructed for the project.  The Forest Service issued project documentation in June 2019, determining that there would not be a significant effect on the environment and that there would be no effect on grizzly bears or lynx due to the project activities.

Anti-forestry groups filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the project.  Among several claims, they argued the Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because the agency did not properly consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on impacts to wildlife.  In its analysis, the agency determined neither grizzly bears nor lynx were known to be present in the area and the project would have no effect on those listed species. The plaintiffs also claimed logging would impact a wild and scenic river corridor, even though the project itself is not actually located within the wild and scenic area.

Two days before Stimson planned to begin implementation, Judge Winmill denied the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction.  The district court found that “plaintiffs make no effort to allege Project implementation will cause irreparable harm to the ESA-listed species at issue” and, instead, focused their allegations of harm on a purported procedural ESA violation.  Judge Winmill also noted the benefits of the project to reduce fire risks and support the local economy, finding the “public interest and balance of equities tips in favor” of implementing the project.

“The Brebner Flat Project represents an important effort to reduce wildfire risks near a community, while improving the forest’s resilience to disturbances such as wildfire, drought, insect infestations and disease,” said AFRC Staff Attorney Sara Ghafouri.  “The project also provides wood to support the local economy and jobs associated with North Idaho’s forest products industry.

“We’re pleased with Judge Winmill’s denial of a preliminary injection and his recognition of the project’s benefits.  AFRC will continue to defend this project from these serial litigants through the judicial process.”