Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: 05-08-2014
  • Case #: 13-35653
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Gould for the Court; Circuit Judges Christen and Fisher
  • Full Text Opinion

Where the United States Forest Service’s final environmental impact statement relating to a logging project relies upon a particular forest’s travel management plan, in terms of regulating off-road motorized travel, reducing the amount of roads in a forest, and addressing environmental harms, which is later withdrawn; and, plaintiffs make adequate showings that they are: (1) likely to prevail under the National Environmental Policy Act, (2) likely to face irreparable harm, and (3) that the balance of equities tips in their favor – plaintiffs are entitled to the issuance of a preliminary injunction.

The Snow Basin project area lies in the Whitman-Wallowa National Forest ("the Forest") in northeast Oregon. Since 2008, the United States Forest Service ("USFS") has been preparing to launch a logging project there. The USFS issued a draft environmental impact statement ("EIS") in March of 2011, before issuing a final EIS ("FEIS") in March of 2012. In April of 2012, the Forest Supervisor removed the Forest’s Travel Management Plan ("TMP"). The TMP had aimed to regulate off-road motorized vehicle use, reduce the number of roads in the Forest, and address environmental harms from the logging project. The League of Wilderness Defenders/Blue Mountain Biodiversity Project and the Hells Canyon Preservation Council ("the plaintiffs") filed suit looking to enjoin the logging project on the grounds that the USFS violated the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"). The district court held that the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed, and that the balance of harms did not tip sufficiently in the plaintiffs’ favor. The district court then denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, and the plaintiffs timely filed notice of appeal. The Ninth Circuit held that, because the FEIS’ discussion of elk habitat failed to satisfy NEPA clarity requirements in light of the withdrawal of the TMP, the plaintiffs had shown they were likely to prevail on their NEPA claim. Further, the panel held the plaintiffs had shown, in the absence of a preliminary injunction, they were likely to face irreparable harm, because thousands of mature trees would be logged and this could not be remedied without difficulty. Finally, the panel held that the plaintiffs had established the balance of equities tipped in their favor, because the private economic harms at issue were outweighed by the threat of irreparable harm to elk habitat. AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part, and REMANDED.

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