Environmental Group Files Federal Lawsuit Seeking Invalidation of Emergency Firefighting Regulation and Review of U.S. Forest Service’s Firefighting Tactics After Agency Destroys Critical Wildlife Habitat to Fight Forest Fire

Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) recently filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Washington against the U.S. Forest Service in response to the agency’s decision to cut 114 acres of timber and critical spotted owl habitat to fight a forest fire that ignited on June 29, 2015 in North Central Washington. Significantly, the fire never came close to the area cut by the Forest Service. In Case No. 2:16-cv-00293-TOR, FSEEE seeks to rescind a 2008 regulation invoked by the Forest Service while fighting the June 29, 2015 fire that permits the agency to suspend all environmental laws after declaring a state of emergency during fire suppression activities. The suit further demands that the Forest Service’s firefighting program be reviewed to assess the effectiveness of its tactics and their effect on the environment.

Specifically, the suit argues the Forest Service exceeded its authority in 2008 in enacting the emergency regulation, and that firefighting, a major federal action, is not exempt from the National Environmental Policy Act and thus must be managed under an environmental review that provides program guidance. With respect to the Forest Service’s firefighting program, FSEEE argues that the agency needs to examine publicly the effectiveness of its actions, invite the public to comment on firefighting and educate the public on the pros and cons of different firefighting tactics. In response to the FSEEE’s claims, the Forest Service defended its actions, arguing that it used good judgment in fighting the June 29, 2015 fire and that its actions were necessary given the uncertainty of fire behavior.

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