On September 29th, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel ruled that the 2005 Forest Service management plan for 4 southern Californian forests was in violation of NEPA. The plaintiffs consisted of environmental groups and the State of California. They were led by the law firm Earthjustice, which stated that the plan inadequately addressed the environmental impacts of making road-less wilderness areas open to development.
The US Forest Service (USFS) is supposed to continually monitor and evaluate progress of the forests under their management plan. Although the 2005 Forest Service management plan considered six alternatives, the plan considered only one way to monitor those alternatives. The judge ruled that each alternative could be monitored differently, with the example of a low-cost monitor method and high-cost monitor method. The document should have considered alternative monitoring methods.
The court also found that the EIS did not analyze the plan’s cumulative impact on the forests. The plan called for allotting only 79,000 acres for wilderness protection, opening up 863,000 for possible development. “If the larger picture is not addressed at this level, it never will be, because site- specific plans do not have the scope appropriate to review the holistic impacts of land use zoning and wilderness designation decisions,” said Judge Patel.
NEPA Lesson Learned: Management plans require monitoring and evaluation methods. These methods should vary in accordance with the alternatives.