Judge Denies Attempt to Halt Roadside Hazard Tree Removal on Sequoia National Forest

November 20, 2017

A U.S. District Court judge for California has denied a request for a preliminary injunction seeking to halt the removal of dead and dying trees on some roads within the Sequoia National Forest.

The 2016 Cedar Fire burned in the project area, killing or damaging trees and causing public safety concerns along 50.2 miles of roads within the national forest. The resulting Bull Run Project was authorized under the “road maintenance” categorical exclusion. The national forest proposed treatment on about 3,500 acres located in the central Greenhorn Mountains. Under the project, the hazardous trees within 300 feet of each side of the road will be felled and no new or temporary roads will be constructed.

Two groups sought to block the national forest’s Bull Run Roadside Hazard Tree Mitigation Project (Bull Run Project), specifically the agency’s use of a road maintenance “categorical exclusion” which enables the speedy removal of hazard trees posing a threat to public safety. Chief Judge Lawrence O’Neill for the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California issued the ruling on November 17. Judge O’Neill concluded that the environmental groups suing the Sequoia National Forest would be unlikely to succeed on claims that the project was not authorized under the “road maintenance” categorical exclusion.

Judge O’Neill also held that the environmental groups would not likely succeed on claims that “extraordinary circumstances” related to the mountain yellow-legged frog, Pacific fisher, and California spotted owl precluded the use of the categorical exclusion, determining that the project removed dead and dying trees in low-quality wildlife habitat while leaving 88 percent of the Cedar Fire burn area untouched.

American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) provided an attorney to represent Sierra Forest Products (SFP) as an intervenor in the case. SFP is an AFRC member company that purchased the timber sale from the project.

“We are pleased with Judge O’Neill’s decision to allow this important public safety project to continue,” said Sara Ghafouri, staff attorney for AFRC. “In analyzing past cases, the court ruled the removal of hazard trees constitutes an acceptable use of this categorical exclusion, even on similar projects much larger than Bull Run. AFRC will continue to support the Forest Service in this effort, and we will work on behalf of Sierra Forest Products until it’s complete.”