Skip to main content
Press Release

Federal District Court Upholds Forest Service’s Northfork Ecosystem Restoration Project

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Washington

Spokane– Joseph H. Harrington, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that United States District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson granted summary judgment in favor of the U.S. Forest regarding an ecosystem restoration project challenged by the Alliance of the Wild Rockies.

According to information disclosed during court proceedings, the Alliance filed a lawsuit in August 2016 challenging the Colville National Forest’s decision to approve the North Fork Mill Creek A to Z Project. That project had been carefully designed through cooperation between the Forest Service, timber industry, and a variety of environmental organizations that had formed the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition. The Forest Service used a Stewardship Contract authorized by the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) that proposed ecosystem restoration involving rebuilding of roads, fish habitat-improvement projects, thinning of overstocked stands of trees, pre-commercial thinning of young trees, and some aspen restoration in the North Mill Creek drainage of the Three Rivers Ranger District on the Colville National Forest. The Forest Service had approved the project in June 2016.

The Alliance sued the Forest Service in August 2016, claiming that the Forest Service had violated the NFMA by allowing Vaagen Brothers Lumber Company to select and pay for a contractor to conduct the environmental analysis and writing of an environmental assessment (EA) for the project. The Alliance also claimed that the project violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) because the EA did not properly disclose cumulative effects of the North Fork Project with other projects planned in adjacent watersheds, would not protect habitat for fisher and pine marten (two small forest carnivores) under the NFMA, would reduce snow-intercept cover used by deer and elk on winter range, and would increase sediment production that could injure fish species.

The Alliance previously sought a preliminary injunction from the district court, which Judge Peterson denied in October 2016. The Alliance appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle, Washington. The Ninth Circuit ruled against the Alliance on August 1, 2017. The case then returned to the district court for a determination on the merits.

Judge Peterson first found that the awarding of the Stewardship Contract to Vaagen Brothers Lumber in Colville, Washington was based on open and fair bidding and did not violate the NFMA. Judge Peterson also found there was no conflict of interest in letting Vaagen Brothers select the subcontractor to prepare the EA under NEPA because the extensive record in the case showed that the objectivity and integrity of the NEPA process had not been compromised.

Judge Peterson also found that the Forest Service had not violated NEPA when it analyzed impacts of sedimentation in the streams in the North Fork drainage and that the cumulative effects analysis complied with NEPA. Judge Peterson determined the Forest Service’s approach to analyzing impacts to furbearing species such as pine marten and fisher was proper and complied with NEPA and NFMA.

Joseph H. Harrington stated, “Sound forest management benefits the American public and provides needed resources and recreational experiences close to our communities. Natural resource managers should be commended for developing this collaborative project which provides timber and jobs while protecting the natural environment.”

This case was defended by Rudy J. Verschoor and Vanessa R. Waldref, Assistant United States Attorneys in the Civil Division of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington.

Updated October 9, 2018

Press Release Number: CV-2:16-00294-RMP