State attorney general, environmental group appeal Framework decisionDelaine Fragnoli
Both the state attorney general’s office and Sierra Forest Legacy have filed notices with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals of their intent to appeal a November ruling that determined what management rules should be in play on national forests in the Sierra Nevada.
The two entities are appealing District Court Judge Morrison England’s decision in the so-called Framework case. England ruled Nov. 4 that although there were some procedural deficiencies, which he called “relatively minor,” in the Bush-era 2004 Sierra Nevada Framework, they did not mean the Forest Service should revert to the Clinton-era 2001 rules.
In general, the 2004 plan contains more permissive standards for logging and would allow for full implementation of the Quincy Library Group program of fuel reduction.
The appeals are the latest in a long line of back-and-forth litigation between timber proponents and environmental opponents. England has typically favored the Forest Service in his rulings, while the appeals courts has generally been a more favorable venue for environmental plaintiffs.
The appeals court has a mediation program to provide an opportunity for the litigants to discuss settlement before moving to briefing. According to one attorney involved in the case, the attorney general’s office has indicated it thinks there is a possibility of settlement. The attorney general is not asking for a stay.
Sierra Forest Legacy, on the other hand, did not indicate any impulse to settle. The group did say it would seek a stay pending the appeal, probably to pre-empt timber harvest operations set to begin this spring, said the attorney.
Settlement assessment conferences, the first step in the appeals court process, are scheduled for next month. Briefing dates have been calendared for March 22 for SFL and April 21 for the attorney general.
The attorney said the notices of appeal “make it a higher likelihood that both the Sierra Forest Legacy and California attorney general will seek to have the 9th Circuit impose a broader injunction (e.g., set aside the 2004 Framework and only allow projects consistent with the 2001 Framework) than the limited relief granted by District Judge England, and will seek to have the 9th Circuit find more serious errors in the 2004 Framework and NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) documents."
John Sheehan of the Quincy Library Group said that while he expected SFL’s appeal, he was surprised by the attorney general’s action. Although settlement with SFL is unlikely, he held out hope something could be agreed upon with the attorney general.
Under England’s decision, the Forest Service has until May 2010 to complete a supplemental environmental impact statement to address the procedural deficiencies he found in the 2001 Framework.