Court Ruling Clarifies When Amendments To Older Forest Plans Must Meet New NFMA Criteria

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A federal court recently held that an amendment of an older Forest Plan had to comply with recently revised National Forest Management Act (NFMA) requirements, which included criteria for protecting soil and riparian resources.  Forests are not required to revise existing Forest Plans to be consistent with the new criteria, but amendments to the Plans may be required to adhere to the new criteria.  The agency issued regulations which stated that amendments must be consistent with only those new criteria which are “directly related” to the amendment, and whether criteria are directly related to an amendment is based on the purpose and effect of the amendment.  In the case at issue, the court held that the agency only focused on the effect of the amendment, not its purpose, in finding that the new criteria were not applicable to it.

The Forest Plan amendment at issue was highly controversial and exempted a proposed pipeline project from the Jefferson Forest Plan’s existing standards regarding soil and riparian resources.  The Forest Service focused on the effects of the pipeline and asserted that, because they did not substantially impact the Forest’s soil and riparian resources, the amendment did not need to comply with the new NFMA requirements.  The court, however, held that, regardless of the effect it would have on the Forest’s resources, the pipeline had to comply with the new NFMA requirements because they were related to the purpose of the amendment, which was to lessen the requirements for protecting soil and riparian resources.

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