Timber wins Idaho forest case, injunction blocked


American Forest Resource Council,

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on February 22 refused to halt the Brebner Flat Project on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.  The ruling affirms a U.S. District Court’s previous denial of a preliminary injunction against this project, which seeks to improve forest health on federal lands in the Wildland Urban Interface near Avery, Idaho.

The Brebner Flat Project includes logging treatments to reduce the risks of severe fire and provide timber to support local communities.  With support from the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) and Julie Weis of Haglund Kelley LLP, AFRC member Stimson Lumber intervened in the litigation in support of the Forest Service.  Stimson has purchased timber associated with the project.

The project would implement forest health treatments within an area that’s identified as high risk for wildfire in Avery’s 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.

Anti-forestry groups last year filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the project.  Among several claims, they argued the Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and claimed logging would impact a wild and scenic river corridor.  The appeal focused on the groups’ continued claims of grizzly bear presence in the area despite lacking evidence.

Last year Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho denied the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, while noting 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.  In the short decision, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the district court did not err in its assessment of the plaintiff-appellants’ likelihood of success on the merits of their claims and irreparable harm on their ESA claim, affirming the denial of the preliminary injunction.  This was a unanimous decision by three judges appointed by President Clinton.

“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. AFRC will continue to defend this project from these serial litigants through the judicial process.”