On May 29, a federal judge in California dismissed an environmental group’s lawsuit accusing the U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, of improperly approving a forest-thinning project. The group argued that the project would imperil gray wolves and northern spotted owls; the former is endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, while the latter is listed as threatened. The challenged action was the Lava Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project, designed to reduce fire risk in the Modoc National Forest despite harm to the gray wolves and spotted owls.

The federal judge agreed with the agencies’ decision to move forward with the project. He first pointed out that there was no standing to pursue claims related to the gray wolves, because there was no evidence the wolves had ever been within the project area. While it theoretically was possible that they could venture into those boundaries, the judge found that such a possibility was too remote and hypothetical, and that even if they wandered into the project area, there was no evidence they would be harmed by the project anyway. As for the owl species, which is within the project boundaries, the judge rejected the environmental group’s claims by holding that the agencies properly found that the project would not destroy or adversely modify the birds’ critical habitat.

The group also argued the agencies had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement, and to consider all reasonable alternatives. The judge rejected that argument as well, holding that the agencies were reasonable in determining that the environment would not be significantly impacted.

The case is: Conservation Congress v. United States Forest Service