RELEASE: VT Law and Graduate School and Standing Trees challenge logging project in the White Mtn NF
More than 2,000-acres of proposed logging violates federal laws, threatens endangered species
For Immediate Release: Tuesday June 13th, 2023
SOUTH ROYALTON, VT: Vermont Law and Graduate School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic, on behalf of forest protection group Standing Trees, submitted an objection with the U.S. Forest Service on Monday, seeking reconsideration of the flawed Peabody West Integrated Resource Project (Project) proposed for the White Mountain National Forest, near Gorham, New Hampshire. The Project would authorize more than 2,200-acres of commercial logging just north of the Great Gulf Wilderness and Mount Washington, in close proximity to the Appalachian Trail. Read the full objection here.
“Unfortunately, the Forest Service is turning its back on the evidence that mature forests are critical to the region’s climate resilience and biodiversity—this time, in the shadow of Mount Washington in the iconic and wild Northern Presidential Range,” says Christophe Courchesne, Senior Attorney and Assistant Professor of the VLGS Environmental Advocacy Clinic. “The Forest Service should go back to the drawing board and meaningfully review the environmental risks of approving the Peabody West project.”
The detailed objection shows how the Forest Service’s approval of the Project disregards federal laws, downplays the Project’s serious environmental impacts including to endangered species, fails to consider alternatives, and unlawfully ignores the detailed comments previously filed by Standing Trees and others. The objection process is the Forest Service’s last chance to modify the project and avert litigation.
“The Peabody West project continues a dangerous trend,” said Zack Porter, Executive Director of Standing Trees, which works to protect federal and state public lands across New England. “Instead of following the law and the best available science, the White Mountain National Forest has performed yet another cursory review for a project that jeopardizes essential habitat for endangered species, and the forest’s ability to provide critical flood mitigation, clean water, and carbon storage. The public expects and deserves better from the Forest Service.”
“I submitted comments asking the US Forest Service to protect the Great Gulf Inventoried Roadless Area from 600 acres of proposed logging,” said Abby Evankow of Gorham, New Hampshire. “The project approval process failed to assess impacts to the Great Gulf IRA or consider any alternatives that protect roadless areas or mature forests. With three-fourths of New Hampshire forests privately owned, the USFS can reduce the logging areas in the White Mountain National Forest, knowing there is enough timber elsewhere in the region to satisfy the wood market.”
The objection details the failure of the Forest Service to demonstrate compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, National Forest Management Act, the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Administrative Procedure Act, federal guidance and recent Executive Orders. The objection asserts:
The Forest Service failed to scrutinize rigorously the potential adverse impacts of the Project on the recreational, scenic, cultural and ecological resources of the surrounding forest.
The Forest Service’s environmental review failed to consider meaningfully any reasonable alternatives to the Project, including the option of reducing the number of acres authorized for logging to minimize harms to water quality and treasured resources like the Appalachian Trail and Great Gulf Inventoried Roadless Area.
The Forest Service relied on outdated science as it relates to forest health, ignoring the remarkable forest ecosystems of the Northeast, and the unique potential of the White Mountain National Forest to contribute on the global scale to climate stabilization and resilience. Despite recent Executive Orders from President Biden that emphasize the importance of mature forest conservation, the Forest Service failed to consider the President’s direction.
The Project’s logging activities threaten the endangered Northern Long-eared Bat, which has been documented throughout the White Mountain National Forest and is known to occupy forests like those in the northern Presidential Range.
The objection urges the Forest Service — if it intends to proceed with the Project — to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement to remedy the identified problems. The Forest Service has 90 days to respond, with the discretion to extend the review time if necessary. The Forest Service must issue a written response to each objection it receives.
Just last month, the clinic filed a challenge to the similarly-flawed Lake Tarleton Integrated Resource Project in the White Mountain National Forest, on behalf of Standing Trees and with local stakeholders of the Lake Tarleton Coalition. That challenge is pending with the Forest Service.
Summer 2023 Environmental Advocacy Clinic students Amanda Reyes and Hannah Weisgerber assisted with drafting the clinic’s objection.
About Vermont Law and Graduate School: Vermont Law and Graduate School, a private, independent institution, is home to a Law School that offers both residential and online hybrid JD programs and a Graduate School that offers master’s degrees and certificates in multiple disciplines, including programs offered by the School for the Environment, the Center for Justice Reform, and other graduate-level programs emphasizing the intersection of environmental justice, social justice and public policy. Both the Law and Graduate Schools strongly feature experiential clinical and field work learning. For more information, visit vermontlaw.edu, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Standing Trees is a grassroots membership organization that works to protect and restore New England’s forests for the benefit of the 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 throughout the White Mountain National Forest, including the area impacted by the Peabody West IRP. For more information, visit www.standingtrees.org, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.