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Ruling allows Kootenai projects to proceed

by Brad Fuqua & Western News
| April 21, 2009 12:00 AM

Based on a ruling that came down Friday from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, nine projects on the Kootenai National Forest appear to be back in business.

A three-judge appellate panel upheld a 2006 ruling by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy that turned away various claims brought by the WildWest Institute, a Missoula-based organization formerly known as the Ecology Center.

In a 30-page opinion filed Friday, judges Richard C. Tallman, Thomas M. Reavley and Milan D. Smith Jr. responded to several arguments brought forth by the institute.

“We conclude that the Forest Service complied with the substantive requirements of NFMA (the National Forest Management Act) and the Forest Plan,” Tallman wrote in the panel’s conclusion. “The Forest Service also took the requisite ‘hard look’ at the environmental effects of the projects before approving them.”

Paul Bradford, Kootenai National Forest supervisor, lauded the effort put in by his staff.

“This is a great win for the Kootenai and it validates the years of hard work our staff put toward these nine projects,” Bradford said. “We met Forest Plan standards and we met the requirements of National Environmental Policy Act and National Forest Management Act.”

In 2006, Molloy noted that, on many of its claims, WildWest had failed to “establish a connection between the challenged forest-wide management practices and the lawfulness of the logging projects.”

As a result, the district court concluded that the Forest Service had complied with legal requirements.

“We are glad that the appeals court agreed with the district court’s original ruling,” Bradford said. “We had confidence that the environmental analysis our resource specialists completed was high-quality work, and the decisions we made were appropriate.”

Thomas J. Woodbury of Missoula argued the case for the WildWest Institute.

The Forest Service adopted nine site-specific projects on the Kootenai over the course of 2004-05:

• Bristow Area Restoration Project

• Fortine Project

• West Troy Project

• Pipestone Timber Sale and Restoration Project

• Lower Big Creek Project

• South McSwede Timber Sale and Restoration

• Alder Creek Project

• Cow Creek Project

• McSutten Project

The projects combined involve approximately 64 million board feet of unsold timber.

On the Net: The opinion on WildWest Institute v. Castaneda can be found on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit website at www.ca9.uscourts.gov .