[JURIST] An en-banc panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] Wednesday released a ruling [PDF text] granting broad deference to the National Forest Service (NFS) [official website] when making decisions regarding the impact of logging on national forests. The ruling comes in a case brought by environmental groups Lands Council and the Wild West Institute [advocacy websites] to enjoin the NFS from instituting a proposed logging plan in Idaho Panhandle National Forest [official website]. The court Wednesday held that under the Administrative Procedures Act [statute text; provision text], it could only overturn NFS decisions on these matters of they were "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law," a standard that had not been met in this case:
In essence, Lands Council asks this court to act as a panel of scientists that instructs the Forest Service how to validate its hypotheses regarding wildlife viability, chooses among scientific studies in determining whether the Forest Service has complied with the underlying Forest Plan, and orders the agency to explain every possible scientific uncertainty... this is not a proper role for a federal appellate court. But Lands Councils arguments illustrate how, in recent years, our environmental jurisprudence has, at times, shifted away from the appropriate standard of review and could be read to suggest that this court should play such a role... Today, we correct those errors.The court set a new standard of authority which overturned a 2005 ruling [PDF text] on a separate logging plan, in which the court had exercised control over the Forest Service's internal affairs. AP has more. The Oregonian has local coverage.
In late June, the same panel ruled [PDF text, AP report] that the NFS generally has the prerogative to determine which trees are candidates for clearing after after a forest fire, but directed the agency to more thoroughly consider whether any logging should be done in certain wilderness areas. In May, the court reversed [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a lower court order denying an injunction against a NFS plan to allow commercial logging in another forest to help pay for a wildfire prevention program.