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Forest Service Sued for Slashing Public Participation Rights – Changes narrowed public comment to 30 days, in violation of…
The lawsuit arose when the Forest Service threw out three administrative appeals filed by WildEarth Guardians that challenged Forest Service decisions to continue livestock grazing on 150,000 acres in New Mexico’s National Forests, despite its impacts to water quality and wildlife habitat. The only reason stated for rejecting the appeals was that WildEarth Guardians commented on the projects in advance of the specified 30-day window.
“The Forest Service claims they want public involvement early in the planning process, but our rights were effectively trampled because we commented at the start of the planning process and not during the narrow window set by the agency,” said Billy Stern, Grazing Reform Coordinator for WildEarth Guardians. “This is part of a larger strategy by the Bush administration to systematically stymie public participation. By attacking the public participation process, they are attacking the democratic process.”
Before the Forest Service changed the appeals regulations, any person or group who commented after a project was proposed up until a decision was made, had a right to appeal the final decision. The administrative appeal process provided an opportunity to avoid litigation by asking the agency to revise or reverse its decision after reviewing the arguments and information presented in the appeal.
“Bit by bit the Bush Administration is smothering citizen involvement in decisions involving forest management, grazing, and the placement of oil and gas wells,” said Oscar Simpson of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “The results are less clean water and shrinking habitat for elk, antelope and other wildlife.”
“When Congress passed the Appeals Reform Act, it sought to vindicate a basic democratic right: the right ‘to appeal a decision of a free Government of a free people if that decision adversely affects an individual citizen,’” said Tom Lustig, a National Wildlife Federation attorney who represents the environmental groups. “We are fighting to protect that right.”
WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Wildlife represent more than 5,000 residents of the Southwest who believe public lands should be managed for the long-term protection of fish, wildlife, and clean water.