Successfully Halting the Upper Echo Lake Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project

We represented pro bono client, Dr. Dennis Murphy, in a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service (Agency) to successfully halt the progression of the Upper Echo Lakes Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project in 2014.

The Project contemplates cutting of an unspecified volume of trees and brush, creation of slash piles consisting of the cut materials, and burning of those slash piles along the shoreline of Lower and Upper Echo Lakes south of Lake Tahoe.  The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California signed an order on a stipulation filed by Dr. Murphy and the U.S. Forest Service that bars the agency from proceeding with implementation of the Upper Echo Lakes Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project.  The court-ordered stipulation requires the U.S. Forest Service to consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before proceeding further with the project.

The Project was initiated by the U.S. Forest Service in Fall of 2013 purportedly to reduce the chance of wildfires.  However, they failed to take into account the low risk for fire in the area and sought to sidestep environmental review by claiming the Project would have no impacts on the environment.  The Echo Lakes Basin is recognized as a "hotspot" of biodiversity and serves as one of the most visited wilderness areas within the National Forest System.  The Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, a native to the Echo Lakes Basin, has been a candidate for protection for a decade and was listed as an endangered species in April 2014.  Despite the fact that past surveys for the frog adjacent to the Project site have repeatedly identified individuals using the area, the U.S. Forest Service failed to conduct surveys for the frog and other sensitive species prior to initiating the Project.  In addition, the Project has caused damage to wetlands and threatens water quality at Upper Echo Lake.

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