The national forests of the Sierra Nevada Mountains (“the Sierras”) are home to a rich array of fauna, including at least 61 species of fish and 35 species of amphibians. The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project, a study commissioned by Congress, concluded in 1996 that their environment has been severely degraded: “The aquatic/riparian systems are the most altered and impaired habitats in the Sierra.” The Sierra Nevada Forest Plan applies to all of the national forests in the Sierras.
In January 2001, the United States Forest Service (“Forest Service”) issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement (“2001 EIS”) recommending amendments to the Forest Plan. The amendments were intended, among other things, to conserve and repair the aquatic and riparian ecosystems. In January 2001, the Forest Service adopted a modified version of the preferred alternative recommended in the 2001 EIS. The parties refer to this as the 2001 Framework. In November 2001, the Chief of the Forest Service asked for a review of the 2001 Framework. In January 2004, the Forest Service issued a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“2004 EIS”) recommending significant changes to the 2001 Framework. The Forest Service adopted the preferred alternative in the 2004 EIS. The parties refer to this as the 2004 Framework.
Plaintiff-Appellant Pacific Rivers Council brought suit in federal district court challenging the 2004 Framework as inconsistent with the National Environmental Protection Act (“NEPA”) and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). The gravamen of Pacific Rivers complaint is that the 2004 EIS does not sufficiently analyze the environmental consequences of the 2004 Framework for fish and amphibians. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court granted summary judgment to the Forest Service. Pacific Rivers timely appealed the grant of summary judgment.
The district court's grant of summary judgment to the Forest Service is: 1) reversed in part, where the plaintiff had Article III standing, and the failure of the environmental impact statement (EIS) to provide any analysis of the environmental consequences on individual fish species was a failure to comply with the hard look requirement of NEPA; and 2) affirmed in part, insofar as the Forest Service did take a hard look at environmental consequences on amphibians in the EIS, in compliance with NEPA and remanded remand to the district Court.