Decker v. United States Forest Service
United States District Court for the District of Colorado
780 F. Supp. 2d 1170 (2011)
Under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (the restoration act), the United States Forest Service (the service) (defendant) was required to implement authorized hazardous-fuel-reduction projects to reduce the risk of wildfires. The restoration act defined authorized hazardous-fuel-reduction projects as the measures and methods described in the definition of “appropriate tools” in the United States Department of the Interior’s Implementation Plan for reducing wildfire risks. The Interior’s Implementation Plan defined appropriate tools as methods for retaking hazardous fuels (e.g., a dried, dead tree) including various mechanical methods such as tree removal. The restoration act provided that authorized hazardous-fuel-reduction projects were subject to an expedited administrative-review process. The service proposed a timber-salvage project (the project) pursuant to the restoration act that used clearcutting as the primary method for tree removal. The service determined that the project was an authorized hazardous-fuel-reduction project under the restoration act, and it engaged in an expedited review of the project. The service ultimately issued a finding of no significant impact and a decision approving the project. After filing the requisite objections throughout the administrative review process, Melissa Decker (plaintiff) filed a complaint against the service, challenging the implementation of the project in a certain area, Unit 101. The United States District Court for the District of Colorado issued a preliminary injunction, finding that the service had not conducted a proper environmental assessment of the project in the area of Unit 101 and enjoining further logging activities in the area until the service supplemented its environmental assessment and took into account the economics of the project. The service conducted a supplemental environmental assessment to which Decker objected. The service again issued a decision approving the project. Decker filed an amended complaint challenging the new decision. Decker argued that the project did not meet the restoration act’s definition of an authorized hazardous-fuel-reduction project, so the service acted arbitrarily and capriciously by conducting an expedited administrative review of the project. Decker reasoned that clearcutting did not constitute an appropriate tool under the restoration act.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Brimmer, J.)
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