A federal court judge on Tuesday (Dec. 1) summarily dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Montana-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies that had challenged the U.S. Forest Service’s plans for the Mission Restoration Project south of Twisp.
Judge Salvador Mendoza Jr. of the U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington granted the Forest Service’s request for a summary judgment dismissing the alliance’s suit “with prejudice,” meaning the suit cannot be refiled (although Mendoza’s order may be appealed). In his 54-page order, Mendoza also denied all other pending motions and directed that the case file be closed.
The alliance had argued, in a lawsuit filed last year, that the Forest Service had not adequately analyzed the potential for the Mission Restoration Project to harm endangered fish and habitat for deer and grizzly bears. The suit contended that the Forest Service failed to look explicitly at the environmental impacts of logging, and asked the court to block the agency from carrying out the project.
The Forest Service countered that the alliance hadn’t shown that the agency did not fulfill its obligations under federal laws intended to protect the environment and enhance habitat for endangered species. The Forest Service asked the judge to dismiss the entire lawsuit.
The Forest Service specifically challenged the alliance’s claim that the agency was required to consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service about the chance that roads in the 50,200-acre Mission Project could make it less likely that grizzly bears would recover in the area.
In his order, Mendoza said that “This Court finds a rational connection between the facts found and the conclusions made regarding the road-related effects on grizzly bears. As a result, the Forest Service — in consultation with FWS [Fish & Wildlife] — did not act arbitrarily and capriciously when it determined the Project ‘may affect’ but is ‘not likely to adversely affect’ grizzly bears.”
The Mission Project was designed by the North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative, which includes the Forest Service, conservation groups and the timber industry. Earlier this year, several conservation groups filed briefs in court supporting the Forest Service, saying the project uses science to identify badly degraded areas and then restore ecological resilience.
“When you build a project with robust public input and sound science, the process ultimately moves faster in the end. There are no shortcuts to success,” Jasmine Minbashian, executive director of the Methow Valley Citizens Council, said on Tuesday in reaction to the court decision.