(CN) - The U.S. Forest Service did not ignore the plight of endangered caribou and grizzly bears when it signed off on Idaho's modified roadless rule, the 9th Circuit ruled Monday.
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups challenged the agency's 2008 adoption of the Idaho Roadless Rule, which they claim causes more harm with less strident restrictions than those enacted in 2001 and upheld by the 10th Circuit in 2011.
A controversial provision of the new rule opens nearly 6,000 acres of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest to phosphate mining. This was prohibited in the 2001 Roadless Rule.
Prior to signing off on Idaho's modifications, the Forest Service accepted a Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion finding that the new rule was not likely to harm any endangered species living in the forest, including harried populations of grizzly bears and rare woodland caribou. While agreeing that the "more permissive rules" could be "serious" for the grizzly bear and "significant" for the caribou, Fish and Wildlife justified its decision by noting the Forest Service's "commitment of future protection."
The groups decried the biological opinion and argued that the agencies had violated federal environmental laws in accepting the new rules.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill rejected the challenge and granted summary judgment to the agencies on Jan. 29, 2011, from Pocatello. Among other things Winmill found that promised future protection of endangered speices "was not some vague aspiration but a detailed proposal."
In an unsigned opinion published Monday, the 9th Circuit affirmed and adopted Judge Winmill's ruling as its own.
"After scouring both the administrative and district court records in this case, we conclude that the district court's grant of summary judgment to the defendants was warranted," the ruling states. "The inclusive, thorough, and transparent process resulting in the challenged rule conformed to the demands of the law and is free of legal error."
The federal appeals panel in Portland also granted intervenor status in the case to the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, the Idaho Association of Counties, the Idaho Mining Association and Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.