United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division
ALLIANCE FOR THE WILD ROCKIES, NATIVE ECOSYSTEMS COUNCIL, Plaintiffs,
LEANNE MARTEN, Regional Forester of Region One of the U.S. Forest Service, and UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Defendants.
L. Christensen, Chief Judge.
the Court is the motion for preliminary injunction of
Plaintiffs Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native
Ecosystems Council (collectively "Plaintiffs").
Defendants Leanne Marten, Regional Forester for Region One of
the United States Forest Service and the United States Forest
Service (collectively "Defendants") oppose the
motion. As discussed below, the Court will grant the motion
and preliminarily enjoin the Stonewall Vegetation Project
until a final ruling is issued on the merits.
February 17, 2017, Plaintiffs filed suit seeking declaratory
and injunctive relief contending that Defendants'
approval of the Stonewall Vegetation Project (the
"Project") violates federal law, specifically the
Endangered Species Act ("ESA"), 16 U.S.C. §
1531 et seq. The Project is located on the Lincoln
Ranger District in the Helena National Forest and is
approximately four miles from the town of Lincoln, Montana.
The Project area totals approximately 24, 010 acres and
includes management activities on 4, 868 acres. Planned
management activities are set to begin June 1, 2017, and
include logging or thinning on 2, 668 acres and prescribed
burning on 2, 220 acres. The Project authorizes the construction
of 0.9 miles of temporary roads and 31.5 miles of road
maintenance or reconstruction. Defendants state that this
area largely consists of dead lodgepole pine due to disease
and insect infestation. As a result, Defendants contend that
implementation of the Project will improve forest health and
reduce the risk of high-intensity wildfires in the area.
However, this area is also frequented by various wildlife,
including the Canada lynx.
2000, Canada lynx were listed as a threatened species under
the ESA. In 2006, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service
("FWS") designated 1, 841 square miles as critical
habitat for the species. However, the FWS failed to designate
any National Forest land as critical habitat. Later, in 2007,
the Forest Service adopted the Northern Rocky Mountain Lynx
Management Direction, known as the "Lynx Amendment,
" which set specific guidelines and standards for
activities that may have an adverse effect on the species. At
the same time the Forest Service initiated consultation with
the FWS pursuant to section 7 of the ESA, 16 U.S.C. §
1536(a)(2), and determined that the management direction
outlined in the Lynx Amendment did not jeopardize the Canada
lynx. However, after completing the consultation process the
FWS determined that its decisions relating to the designation
of critical habitat were flawed and reevaluated its data. As
a result of this reevaluation, the FWS subsequently revised
the critical habitat designation for the lynx from 1, 841 to
39, 000 square miles.
2012, an environmental organization filed suit in this Court
alleging that the Forest Service violated the ESA by failing
to reinitiate section 7 consultation following the
redesignation of Canada lynx critical habitat. Salix v.
U.S. Forest Serv., 944 F.Supp.2d 984, 986 (D. Mont.
2013). The Court agreed and ordered reinitiation of
consultation. Salix, 944 F.Supp.2d at 1002-1003.
Following an appeal by the Forest Service, the Court of
Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the Court's
determination that section 7 consultation must be
reinitiated. Cottonwood Envtl. L. Ctr. v. U.S. Forest
Serv., 789 F.3d 1075, 1088 (9th Cir. 2015), cert,
denied, 137 S.Ct. 293 (2016). Consequently, reconsultation
between the FWS and the Forest Service began on November 2,
2016, and is currently ongoing. Plaintiffs contend, among
other arguments, that the Forest Service is violating the
ESA, specifically section 7(d), by implementing the Project
prior to the completion of consultation. Accordingly,
Plaintiffs seek to enjoin commencement of the Project until
the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment can be
adjudicated on the merits.
preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy never
awarded as of right." Winter v. Nat. Resources Def.
Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 24 (2008) (citation omitted).
Generally, a party seeking a preliminary injunction must
establish that: (1) it is likely to succeed on the merits;
(2) it is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of
preliminary relief; (3) the balance of equities tips in its
favor; and (4) an injunction is in the public interest.
Winter, 555 U.S. at 20 (citations omitted). However,
"serious questions going to the merits and a balance of
hardships that tips sharply towards the plaintiff can support
issuance of a preliminary injunction, so long as the
plaintiff also shows that there is a likelihood of
irreparable injury and that the injunction is in the public
interest." All. for the Wild Rockies v.
Cottrell, 632 F.3d 1127, 1135 (9th Cir. 2011).
Likelihood of Irreparable Injury
Court will first address whether Plaintiffs have alleged a
sufficient likelihood of irreparable harm to warrant a
preliminary injunction of the Project.Plaintiffs have
adequately alleged that implementation of the Project would
likely cause irreparable harm to their members. These members
have expressed "recreational, scientific, spiritual,
vocational and educational interests" in viewing and
utilizing "the area in its undisturbed state."
(Doc. 8-1 at 3.) Implementation of the Project, Plaintiffs
argue, would cause irreparable harm to these interests.
previously stated by the Ninth Circuit, establishing a
likelihood of irreparable harm "should not be an onerous
task for plaintiffs." Cottonwood, 789 F.3d at
1091. Indeed, Plaintiffs' expressed desire to visit the
area in an undisturbed state is all that is required to
sufficiently allege harm under ESA. Cottrell, 632
F.3d at 1135 (finding plaintiffs' allegation that a
proposed timber project would "harm its members'
ability to 'view, experience, and utilize' the areas
in their undisturbed state" satisfied the irreparable
harm requirement under Winter). Plaintiffs have
sufficiently alleged a likelihood of irreparable injury to
warrant a preliminary injunction.
Public Interest and Balance of Hardships
the government is a party under a preliminary injunction
analysis, the public interest and balance of equities factors
merge. Drakes Bay Oyster Co. v. Jewell, 747 F.3d
1073, 1092 (9th Cir. 2014) (citing Nken v. Holder,
556 U.S. 418, 435 (2009)). Defendants contend that these
factors weigh in its favor for two principal reasons: (1) the
Project, though it will temporarily degrade lynx habitat,
will improve snowshoe hare habitat and in the long run will
ultimately benefit the lynx; and (2) the Project will address
the risk of severe wildfire caused "by a nearly
contiguous fuel-bed, with heavy accumulations of dead and
downed timber." (Doc. 12 at 32.)
in the context of alleged procedural violations of the ESA,
the public interest and the balance of hardships weighs
heavily in favor of a preliminary injunction due the emphasis
placed by Congress on the protection of endangered and
threatened species. Cottonwood, 789 F.3d at 1091
("[W]hen evaluating a request for injunctive relief to
remedy an ESA procedural violation, the equities and public
interest factors always tip in favor of the protected
species."); see also Tennessee Valley Auth. v.
Hill,437 U.S. 153, 194 (1978) ("Congress has
spoken in the plainest of words, making it abundantly clear
that the balance has been struck in favor of affording
endangered species the highest of priorities ....").
Here, the arguments offered by the Defendants against a