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Group files lawsuit to challenge logging in White Mountain National Forest

Federal lawsuits allege that U.S. Forest Service approvals improperly failed to consider climate, biodiversity and clean water; strives to protect cherished, biodiverse forests around Lake Tarleton and in the northern Presidential Range

CONCORD, New Hampshire – Vermont Law and the Graduate School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic filed suit today in the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire on behalf of the forest conservation group Standing Trees.

The lawsuit challenges commercial logging projects recently approved by the United States Forest Service in the White Mountain National Forest, in Piermont and Gorham, New Hampshire (click here for photos).

The challenged projects – known as the Tarleton and Peabody West Integrated Resource Projects – include nearly 3,000 acres of commercial logging and more than 11 miles of permanent road construction across two irreplaceable landscapes crossed by the Appalachian Trail and enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year.

  • The lawsuit asks the court to set aside the projects and cites legal violations, including the Forest Service’s inability to:
  • Justify the need for commercial logging;
  • Evaluate alternatives to the Forest Service’s projects to meet this “need”;
  • Make full disclosure of the environmental impacts of the projects individually and cumulatively, in combination with other logging projects in the White Mountain National Forest;
  • Specify the projects’ impact on mature and old-growth forests, as directed by President Biden in Executive Order 14072, April 2022;
  • Avoid impact on endangered species such as the Northern Long-eared Bat;
  • Avoid impact on the Great Gulf Inventoried Roadless Area; And
  • Protect the water quality of exceptional water bodies, including Lake Tarleton, one of the largest, cleanest, and least developed lakes in the White Mountain National Forest, and the Peabody River, a tributary of the Androscoggin River that originates in the Presidential high country Range and qualifies to be classified as a Wild and Scenic River.

“The project approvals violate the National Environmental Policy Act, Administrative Procedure Act and National Forest Management Act,” said Diana Csank, assistant professor of law at Vermont Law and Graduate School. “These laws require rigorous reviews that gather the best possible information so the Forest Service can achieve better environmental outcomes.”

“The Forest Service has shown no interest in working with the public to improve any of these reckless logging projects,” said Zack Porter, executive director of Standing Trees. The organization works to protect federal and state lands in New England. “The Forest Service has had ample opportunity to engage and learn from local communities, respond to the new presidential direction, and adapt its plans to changing circumstances. The public deserves better and we have no choice but to take the agency to court.”

The lawsuit follows advocacy by the Environmental Advocacy Clinic on behalf of Standing Trees during the administrative review of both projects, including extensive objections filed with the Forest Service in May 2023 and June 2023.

Quotes from those involved in the issue:

“Lake Tarleton was protected by our local community 20 years ago because of the unique, pristine nature of its wilderness, and to prevent exactly the kind of large-scale change now being proposed by the White Mountain National Forest,” said Rob Wipfler, co-director of Kingswood Camp, a popular boys’ summer camp that has been operating under various names on the shore of Lake Tarleton since 1909. “We were told in no uncertain terms that Lake Tarleton would be managed to protect its ‘wilderness’ qualities for future generations. Instead of honoring the people who worked tirelessly to add this landscape to the National Forest, the Tarleton Integrated Resource Project violates the public trust and negatively impacts our business.”

Conway, New Hampshire, resident Jerry Curran said, “The White Mountain National Forest is a national treasure, but the Forest Service seems to think its highest value is saw logs, pulpwood and fuel rather than habitat, carbon storage, clean water and quiet recreation. The Presidential Range is unlike anywhere else in the eastern United States. And yet the Peabody West Integrated Resource Project treats the spectacular slopes of iconic Mount Madison like a basket of timber, instead of celebrating the intact forest that exists there today.”

“The Forest Service is desecrating Godak Wadso (‘Hidden Mountain’ or ‘Mt Washington’) and Lake Tarleton with these logging projects,” said John Moody, project coordinator for the Winter Center for Indigenous Traditions. “The mountains and waters of what we now call the White Mountain National Forest have been well maintained and used by the Abenaki community since time immemorial. These projects betray cultural ignorance and a deep disrespect for abaziak (‘trees’), nebesak (‘waters’) and adenak (‘mountains’).”

“These two projects are so disappointing for an agency to which I have dedicated my career,” said Jim Furnish, who retired as deputy chief of the Forest Service in 2001 after a 35-year career. “The apparent failure to properly consider impacts, respond reasonably to public concerns, and adjust management priorities to meet presidential guidelines for mature and old-growth forests leaves concerned stakeholders with little choice but to sue strain.”

“A rigorous carbon analysis would not lead to the conclusion that logging projects of this size are ‘negligible’ in terms of their impact on the climate,” said William Moomaw, professor emeritus of international environmental policy at the Tufts Fletcher School and distinguished visiting scholar at the Woodwell Climate Research Center . . “In March, 200 scientists sent a letter to President Biden urging an immediate moratorium on logging of mature and old-growth forests on federal lands to prevent exactly the kind of logging proposed in these two projects. If we want to be world leaders on climate change, we must put our mature and ancient forests on a different path.”

“The Forest Service seems to think it can accelerate logging projects with minimal attention to consequences and public disclosure of information,” said Hannah Weisgerber, a student attorney at the Environmental Advocacy Clinic. “The approvals for both projects were arbitrary and capricious and a betrayal of the public’s right to due process.”

Last month, the Environmental Advocacy Clinic filed a detailed objection with the Forest Service against yet another flawed logging project in the White Mountain National Forest, the Sandwich Vegetation Management Project in the shadow of iconic Mount Chocorua and the Sandwich Range Wilderness. Standing Trees’ objection highlights how the White Mountain National Forest’s approach to these projects reflects an ongoing pattern of unlawful, cursory reviews of resulting decisions to log thousands of acres of federal forests in New England, without regard to the harmful effects of logging on climate resilience, biodiversity and biodiversity. water quality.

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Together with Standing Trees and its member stakeholders, Vermont Law and Graduate School student attorney Hannah Weisgerber, former student attorney Angela Galik, Assistant Professor Diana Csank and Environmental Advocacy Clinic Director Christophe Courchesne led the drafting of the complaint, with substantial assistance from student attorneys Ashton Danneels, Katlyn Schafer and Logan Keen and support from Clinic Program Coordinator Taylor Cox. Former student attorneys Sarah Christopherson, Isabella Pardales, Amanda Reyes and former clinic director Michael Harris contributed to the clinic’s previous advocacy on behalf of Standing Trees challenging these projects, as did former clinic office manager Joe Anderson.

About Vermont Law and Graduate School: Vermont Law and Graduate School, a private, independent institution, is home to a law school offering ABA-accredited residential and online hybrid JD programs, and a graduate school offering master’s degrees and certificates in multiple disciplines, including programs offered by the Maverick Lloyd School for the Environment, the Center for Justice Reform, and other graduate-level programs that emphasize the intersection of environmental justice, social justice, and public policy. Both law and graduate schools offer strong experiential clinical and fieldwork education. For more information, visit vermontlaw.edu, Facebook and Instagram.

Standing trees is a grassroots membership organization working to protect and restore New England’s forests for the benefit of climate, clean water and biodiversity, with a focus on state and federal public lands in New Hampshire and Vermont. Standing Trees members regularly visit and recreate in the White Mountain National Forest, including areas affected by the Tarleton and Peabody West projects. For more information, visit Standingtrees.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.