Overturning a trial judge in Idaho, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the U.S. Forest Service erred in not preparing an environmental impact statement for a proposed timber sale in Idaho. U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill had ruled that the Forest Service's environmental assessment and subsequent findings of no significant impact were adequate. But a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit disagreed, saying that the Forest Service had not adequately examined the impact on water quality, fisheries, and the cumulative impact of the proposed sale and another, larger sale nearby that was proposed subsequently. The dispute arose over the Forest Service's proposal to permit the harvesting of 3.1 million board-feet of timber from two sub-watersheds in Idaho - the Miners Creek and West Camas Creek sub-watersheds. Both are inhabited by brook trout, which is considered a management indicator species in Targhee National Forest. In 1993, the Forest Service prepared an environmental assessment relying on water quality reporters from 1985 and 1990 and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact, or FONSI. The Idaho Sporting Congress and other outdoor and environmental groups appealed this decision to the Regional Forester, who upheld it. In 1996, the Forest Service proposed the sale of 7.2 million board-feet of timber in the Camas Creek watershed, of which the West Camas Creek sub-watershed is a part. Again the Forest Service prepared an EA, and it did not supplement the earlier EA to reflect the cumulative impact of this later timber sale. Idaho Sporting Congress and other groups sued, claiming that the Forest Service should have prepared an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act and alleging violations under the National Forest Management Act and the Clean Water Act. After Judge Winmill ruled in favor of the Forest Service, the Idaho Sporting Congress appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit focused much of its attention on the 1985 and 1990 water quality reports. Idaho Sporting Congress had argued that the 1990 report did not contain the necessary analytical data required for any public challenge to the proposed sale. The Forest Service argued - and Judge Winmill agreed - that these defects could be remedied in the EA by referring to the 1985 water quality report, which had been prepared by the same hydrologist. The three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit disagreed, however. Among other things, the Ninth Circuit found that the 1985 report did not cover the Miners Creek area, but only the West Camas Creek area. Second, the Ninth Circuit found that the two reports contained "factual differences". The panel also rejected the Forest Service's arguments that the impact on water quality will be minimized by mitigation measures. "[S]ince the effects of the sale will not be known until the EIS is prepared," wrote Judge Betty Fletcher for the unanimous panel, "we cannot know whether the mitigation measures are sufficient." She added: "Without analytical data to support the proposed mitigation measures, we are not persuaded that they amount to anything more than a 'mere listing' of good management practices." The court also took the Forest Service to task on several other items, especially the cumulative impact of the subsequent proposed sale. While acknowledging that the Forest Service did do a "sparse" cumulative impact analysis in its 1993 environmental assessment, Judge Fletcher concluded that a more extensive analysis in the EIS is necessary. The court also addressed the Idaho Sporting Congress's claims under the Clean Water Act and the National Forest Management Act, but brought both those claims back to the EIS question. The Congress claimed that the Forest Service violated the State of Idaho's "anti-degradation" policy on water quality, which federal agencies are required to follow because it was prepared in conformance with the federal Clean Water Act. While suggesting sympathy with the Forest Service's contrary viewpoint, the Ninth Circuit stated that without an EIS "we lack sufficient facts" to determine whether the state statute had been violated. The NFMA claims focused on the Forest Service's obligation to monitor and report on changes in the trout population. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the Forest Service could properly use trout habitat as a substitute for trout populations in its analysis, but stated that the EIS should address the adequacy of the trout habitat. The Case: Idaho Sporting Congress v. Thomas, No. 97-35339, 98 Daily Journal D.A.R. 4999 (issued March 4, 1998; amended May 13, 1998).