Sierra Club and EPIC v. Board of Forestry, et al.

Sierra Club and EPIC v. Board of Forestry, et al.


A unanimous California Supreme Court held that the Board of Forestry couldn’t approve a THP that fails to include information regarding the presence in the plan area of old-growth-dependent species where such information is requested by the California Department of Forestry in order to evaluate adverse environmental impacts. Significantly, the Court held that in approving THPs the Board of Forestry must comply not only with the provisions of the Forest Practice Act, but also with the more extensive requirements of CEQA, thus affirming the standard previously imposed by an appellate court in EPIC v. Johnson I. The Supreme Court ruled that CEQA does vest CDF with authority to require information not expressly specified in the Forest Practice Rules if the information requested is necessary to determine whether a THP will have a significant adverse environmental impact or to determine if the plan has incorporated feasible measures to reduce those impacts. Therefore, agency approval of plans without the necessary information violates both CEQA and the Forest Practice Act. Conclusions by the California Department of Fish and Game as to possible effects of timber harvesting on wildlife must be considered by the Board of Forestry, according to the Supreme Court. Because possible destruction of both old-growth dependent species and their habitat from harvesting of old-growth can fairly be described as significant and adverse, the Board of Forestry, through the California Department of Forestry, has an obligation imposed by CEQA to collect information regarding presence of old-growth-dependent species on the proposed logging plans. The Court rejected Pacific Lumber’s rationale that extensive surveys to address wildlife effects were not appropriate because of the cost and time such surveys could impose on landowners. This case stemmed from Pacific Lumber’s plans to cut 325 acres of unentered old-growth redwood and Douglas fir at Lawrence and Shaw Creeks within the Headwaters Forest complex, and the consequent impact such logging would have on the red tree vole, the marbled murrelet, the goshawk and the spotted owl. The suit was brought by EPIC and the Sierra Club against the California Board of Forestry, Maxxam Corporation, and the Pacific Lumber Company.

Procedure: THPs 1-88-65 HUM & 1-88-74 HUM both denied by CDF 4/19/88 as incomplete because Pacific Lumber refused to provide requested wildlife information. The Board of Forestry overturned CDF’s denial on 6/8/88. EPIC filed Petition for Writ of Mandate 6/16/88 (Humboldt Ct. #82371, Judge Buffington). TRO denied 6/28/88; EPIC appeals and granted Stay 7/1 and Alternative Writ 8/15/88 (#A047924). On remand, Trial court returned THPs to Board for further findings on 2/9/89. Trial court then denied Writ on 10/23/89 based on Board’s finding of no significant impact to old-growth dependent species or habitat. EPIC appeals again, and Appeals court issued Writ of Supersedeas staying logging pending appeal. Appeals court reversed and remanded with instructions to Trial Court for denial of both THPs. Petitions for rehearing filed by Pacific Lumber, CDF, and Sierra Club/EPIC. The Appellate court redecided the case on 3/18/92, holding for EPIC. Appellate decision published at 4 Cal.App. 4th 982 (1992). The California Supreme Court granted Pacific Lumber’s petition for review (#S026367).

Status: final – California Supreme Court unanimous decision for EPIC published at 7 Cal.4th 1215 (July 21, 1994). EPIC recovered attorneys’ fees under CCP 1021.5.

Attorneys: Thomas Lippe, Bruce Towner, Richard Jay Moller,

Contact: Robert Sutherland (The Man Who Walks in the Woods)