The government’s findings that a timber thinning and fuel reduction project in Northern California would not likely harm the threatened Northern spotted owl were adequate, the 9th Circuit ruled.

The group Conservation Congress sued the U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service for violating federal environmental laws with a timber project in Six Rivers National Forest in Trinity County. The Forest Service said the purpose of the Beaverslide Project was to thin trees, reduce fuels and create fuel corridors to help combat wildfires in the dense forest.

In 2009, the Forest Service concluded in a biological assessment that the project “may” but was “not likely to adversely affect” the Northern spotted owl, a threatened bird that inhabits the Six Rivers National Forest. Fish And Wildlife agreed with the conclusion later that year.

Over the next two years, the two agencies consulted over the effect the project had on the owl, and the Forest Service issued another assessment in March 2013 that also concluded that the project would not adversely affect the owl’s habitat.

Conservation Congress sued the agencies in federal court, and a judge granted summary judgment to the agencies. The conservation group appealed to the 9th Circuit. In briefs submitted to the circuit, the agencies argued that the claims under the Endangered Species Act are moot. The circuit panel disagreed.

From Courthouse News Service: