CYNTHIA HOLCOMB HALL, Circuit Judge:
The United States Forest Service proposed eight timber sales in the Upper Sunday Creek Watershed region of the Kootenai National Forest in northwest Montana. The environmental impact statement it prepared
The district court had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, and 28 U.S.C. § 2202. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and affirm the decision of the district court.
A. The National Forest Management Act
The National Forest Management Act ("NFMA"), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1600 et seq., requires the Secretary of Agriculture to develop land and resource management plans for units of the National Forest System. 16 U.S.C. § 1604(a). When the Secretary develops these plans, the NFMA requires him to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 ("NEPA"), which in turn encompasses the duty to prepare environmental impact statements ("EISs"). 16 U.S.C. § 1604(g)(1); Idaho Conservation League v. Mumma, 956 F.2d 1508, 1511 (9th Cir.1992). The NFMA imposes substantive requirements as well, which have been promulgated as regulations. See 16 U.S.C. § 1604(g)(3); 36 C.F.R. §§ 219 et seq.
The NFMA envisions a two-stage approach to forest planning. Mumma, 956 F.2d at 1511; Sierra Club v. Espy, 38 F.3d 792, 795 (5th Cir.1994). At the first stage, "a team ... develops a proposed [Land Resource Management Plan ("LRMP")] together with a draft and final EIS." Mumma, 956 F.2d at 1511 (citing 36 C.F.R. § 219.10(a) & (b)). Once the LRMP is approved, "[d]irect implementation of the LRMP occurs at a second stage, when individual site-specific projects are proposed and assessed." Id. at 1512. These site-specific projects must be consistent with the stage-one, forest-wide plan. Id.; Sierra Club, 38 F.3d at 795 ("Site specific analysis ... must be consistent with the LRMP."); 16 U.S.C. § 1604(i) ("Resource plans and permits, contracts, and other instruments for the use and occupancy of National Forest System lands shall be consistent with the land management plans."); 36 C.F.R. § 219.10(e) ("[T]he Forest Supervisor shall ensure that ... all outstanding and future permits, contracts, cooperative agreements, and other instruments for occupancy and use of affected lands are consistent with the plan.").
The forest and site-specific plans may be incorporated by reference, or "tiered" — so that the site-specific plan need not reiterate issues adequately discussed in the forest plan. See 40 C.F.R. 1508.28 ("Tiering is appropriate ... [f]rom a program, plan, or policy environmental impact statement to a program, plan, or policy statement or analysis of lesser scope or to a site-specific statement or analysis."); Sierra Club, 38 F.3d at 796; Headwaters, Inc. v. Bureau of Land Management, Medford Dist., 914 F.2d 1174, 1178 (9th Cir.1990). Both stages must, nevertheless, fully comply with the NFMA's regulations. See 16 U.S.C. § 1604(i) (requiring site-specific plans to be consistent with forest plans, which in turn must be consistent with NFMA's substantive requirements).
B. National Environmental Policy Act
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 requires agencies of the federal
The Kootenai National Forest is a 2.2 million acre tract of land nestled against the Salish Range of the Northern Rockies, in northwestern Montana. The Forest Service ("the Service") completed its stage-one, forest-wide plan for the Forest in 1987 (hereinafter "Kootenai Forest Plan"). Five years later, the Service entertained notions of selling timber from a 28,485 acre area of the Forest known as the Sunday Creek Watershed. By late 1992, the Service refined its plans and proposed eight timber sales from a 12,374 acre tract in the upper portion of the Watershed (hereinafter "Upper Sunday").
The Service prepared a site-specific EIS for the Upper Sunday area which contained seven alternative proposals for timber sales, and one no-action alternative. After a period of public comment, the Service decided to proceed with Alternative E-Modified. This alternative provided for the harvest of 13.7 million board feet of timber from, among other portions of the Upper Sunday area, 1,237 acres of mature (over 200 years old), interior forest called "old growth habitat." The Service prepared a supplemental Biological Assessment which discussed the effects of the chosen alternative on wildlife within the Upper Sunday area. In February 1994, the District Ranger signed the Record of Decision approving the Alternative E-Modified Plan. In April 1994, various groups appealed the District Ranger's decision. The Appeals Officer affirmed the District Ranger's approval of the timber sales, but ordered the Service to prepare additional documentation to support its environmental analysis before allowing it to continue with the sales.
Inland Empire Public Lands Council and other environmental groups (hereinafter "Plaintiffs") filed suit in district court on August 25, 1994. Plaintiffs alleged that the Service's Upper Sunday EIS was deficient and violated both NFMA and NEPA. Plaintiffs first contended that the EIS did not conduct a proper population viability analysis for the seven "sensitive" species living in the area: the lynx, boreal owl, black-backed woodpecker, flammulated owl, fisher, bull charr, and the wet-sloped cutthroat trout.
Plaintiffs argued in the alternative that the Forest Service erred in confining its population viability analysis to the Upper Sunday area, rather than going beyond that area to examine the effect of the sales on populations of these species living on land "adjacent to" the project area. They claimed that this error violated the NEPA's "cumulative impact" requirement. See 40 C.F.R. § 1508.7. The district court granted the Service summary judgment on this issue as well, ruling that this, too, was a matter of methodology.
When the district court denied Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction to enjoin
II. Population Viability Analysis
Plaintiffs first claim that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on their claim that the Forest Service's Upper Sunday EIS violated the National Forest Management Act. We review de novo the district court's grant of summary judgment. Nevada Land Action Ass'n v. United States Forest Serv., 8 F.3d 713, 716 (9th Cir.1993).
As noted above, the NFMA imposes substantive duties on the Forest Service, one of which is the duty to "provide for diversity of plant and animal communities." 16 U.S.C. § 1604(g)(3)(B). Regulation 219.19, one of the many regulations promulgated to ensure such diversity, states in relevant part that:
36 C.F.R. § 219.19.
Each party suggests its own answer. The Forest Service proposes that its "habitat viability analyses" were sufficient. For four of the species (the black-backed woodpecker, lynx, fisher, and boreal owl), the Service did the following: It consulted field studies that disclosed how many acres of territory an individual of each species needed to survive and the percentage of that acreage that was used for nesting, feeding, denning, etc. (e.g. a lynx needs a 200 acre territory, 20 acres — or 10% — of which must be suitable for denning). The Service then assumed that these percentages would hold true regardless of the size of the individual's territory (e.g. that a lynx would need 10% of whatever acreage of territory it inhabited to be denning habitat). The Service examined each proposed alternative to see how many acres of each type of relevant habitat would remain after the timber was harvested (e.g. Alternative 1 would leave 2,000 acres of denning habitat). It next determined what percentage of the decision area that the remaining types of habitat constituted (e.g. decision area was 10,000 acres so that remaining denning habitat is 20% of the decision area). The Service concluded a species would remain viable as long as the threshold percentage of each type of habitat remaining in the chosen alternative was greater than the percentage required for that species to survive (e.g. the lynx population would remain viable because Alternative 1 left 20% denning habitat and a lynx needs only 10% of its territory to be suitable for denning). See Final EIS at III:38-39, 41-42, IV:76, 80, 83-87; Biological Assessment, Addendum
The Service's analysis of the remaining species was not as detailed. As to the flammulated owl, the Service noted that the Upper Sunday area contained 366 acres of habitat suitable for nesting and feeding, enough for three potential owl territories; it noted that the timber sales would reduce the size of one of those territories. Final EIS at III:40. As to the bull charr trout, the Service stated that the trout only marginally used the streams within the decision area, but that the timber sales would not appreciably raise the sediment or carbonate levels in those streams. Final EIS at IV:64-67; Biological Assessment at 21.
Plaintiffs contend that the Service's manifold "habitat viability analyses" are insufficient. They argue that Regulation 219.19 also requires the Service to examine: (1) the population of each species; (2) the population dynamics (trends, etc.) of each species; and (3) whether the species could travel between different patches of forest ("linkages"). Mills Decl.
In deference to an agency's expertise, we review its interpretation of its own regulations solely to see whether that interpretation is arbitrary and capricious. 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A); Oregon Natural Resources Council v. Marsh, 52 F.3d 1485, 1488 (9th Cir.1995). This is especially true when questions of scientific methodology are involved. Inland Empire Public Lands Council v. Schultz, 992 F.2d 977, 981 (9th Cir.1993) ("We defer to agency expertise on questions of methodology unless the agency has completely failed to address some factor, `consideration of which was essential to a truly informed decision whether or not to prepare an EIS.'") (citation omitted); see Sierra Club v. Marita ("Marita II"), 46 F.3d 606, 619-20 (7th Cir.1995) (holding that Forest Service's failure to employ "conservation biology" methodology when conducting population viability analysis was not arbitrary or capricious). Thus, we will uphold the Forest Service's interpretation "unless it is plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation." Nevada Land Action Ass'n, 8 F.3d at 717 (citations and internal quotations omitted).
We do not believe that the habitat management analysis conducted in this case for the black-backed woodpecker, lynx, fisher, and boreal owl was in any way "plainly erroneous" or "inconsistent" with this regulatory duty. Regulation 219.19 ultimately requires the Forest Service to maintain viable populations. In this case, the Service's methodology reasonably ensures such populations by requiring that the decision area contain enough of the types of habitat essential for survival. In applying this methodology, the Service recognizes that decision areas are artificial boundaries that change depending on the project at issue, and that the species inhabiting these areas pay no attention to such boundaries.
We recognize that the Service's methodology necessarily assumes that maintaining the acreage of habitat necessary for survival would in fact assure a species' survival. The Service is entitled to rely on reasonable assumptions in its environmental analyses. See, e.g., Sierra Club v. Marita ("Marita I"), 845 F.Supp. 1317, 1331 (E.D.Wis.1994) (finding it permissible to assume that population trends affecting one species in a particular habitat will similarly affect other species in the same habitat), aff'd, 46 F.3d 606 (7th Cir.1995); Greenpeace Action v. Franklin, 14 F.3d 1324, 1335-36 (9th Cir.1992) (finding it permissible for Service to assume that declines in the Stellar sea lion population would be the same for the harbor seal population, given their similarities). We find the above-stated assumption eminently reasonable and therefore do not find that the Forest Service's habitat analyses for the black-backed woodpecker, lynx, fisher, and boreal owl were arbitrary or capricious.
Nor do we believe that the less rigorous analysis performed for the remaining three species — the flammulated owl, the bull charr trout, and the wet-sloped cutthroat trout — was arbitrary and capricious. See Final EIS at III:40, IV:81-82; Biological Assessment at 21. The Service's failure to engage in a more intensive analysis for the bull charr trout and the wet-sloped cutthroat trout is understandable, as neither species would be
The Service's treatment of the flammulated owl is also reasonable. In its EIS, the Service determined that the Upper Sunday decision area contained habitat to support three potential flammulated owl territories and concluded that Alternative E-Modified would shrink the size of the smallest of these territories from 40 to 35 acres. Biological Assessment at 29-30. The Service did not engage in a more extended analysis of the owl's nesting and feeding habitat requirements because such data were unavailable. See Richard T. Reynolds & Brian D. Linkhart, "The Nesting Biology of Flammulated Owls in Colorado," Biology & Conservation of Northern Forest Owls 259 (1987) ("It spite of its wide distribution, little is known of the flammulated owl's nesting biology and population status."). We believe that an analysis that uses all the scientific data currently available is a sound one.
Plaintiffs contend that we must still reverse because the Service did not comply with its duties regarding the "management indicator species." Regulation 219.19 provides that the Service may select "certain vertebrate and/or invertebrate species present in the area" to be "management indicator species" when those species' "population changes are believed to indicate the effects of management activities." 36 C.F.R. § 219.19.
We believe that the Service has satisfied this obligation. In this case, the Service selected the pileated woodpecker as the indicator species for the old growth habitat. See Final EIS at III:42. The old growth areas provide special feeding and nesting conditions, upon which several species are dependent. The Service evaluated the various planning alternatives for the Upper Sunday timber sales in terms of how they would affect the old growth forest and the number of pileated woodpecker nesting and feeding territories therein. See Final EIS at IV:88-89. Specifically, the Service found that the chosen alternative would reduce the pileated woodpecker's old growth nesting habitat by 11-12% and the feeding habitat by 11-15%. Final EIS at II:33. Such reduction would "eliminate one nesting block ... and reduce the number of home ranges that support good amount and distribution of nesting and feeding habitat from 10 to 9." Final EIS at IV:88. Because the number of remaining
We therefore affirm the district court's conclusion that the Service's population viability analysis was not "arbitrary and capricious."
III. Cumulative Impacts Analysis
Plaintiffs next argue that the Service had a duty under NEPA to discuss how the Upper Sunday project would affect the populations of sensitive species living both within and "adjacent to" the project area.
Regulations promulgated under NEPA state that an EIS must consider "[i]mpacts, which may be (1) [d]irect; (2) indirect; [or] (3) cumulative." 40 C.F.R. § 1508.25(c). A "direct effect" is an effect "caused by the action and occur[ring] at the same time and place." 40 C.F.R. § 1508.8(a). An "indirect effect" is an effect which is both:
40 C.F.R. § 1508.8(b) (emphasis added). A "cumulative impact" is defined as:
40 C.F.R. § 1508.7.
Plaintiffs argue that the timber sales' impact on animal populations "adjacent" to but outside the Upper Sunday area are "indirect" and "cumulative" effects of the sales because those populations are part of the same "eco-system" as the populations within the area. They contend that the Service should not be able to define the scope of its population analysis on the basis of artificial project boundaries that ignore how species' populations are part of an ecosystem.
We reject Plaintiffs' reading of these regulations. As an initial matter, we do not believe that Plaintiffs base their argument on the proper regulations. When environmental plaintiffs challenge an EIS's "cumulative"
We furthermore believe that adopting Plaintiffs' position as a rule of law would be impractical. Under such a rule, an agency would have to analyze separately each species to determine the area covered by its particular ecosystem and then analyze its population viability in that area; this task could become particularly burdensome if there are a number of different species to examine, each with a different population ecosystem area to analyze. See Seattle Audubon Soc'y v. Lyons, 871 F.Supp. 1291, 1312 (W.D.Wash.1994) ("[T]o plan based on different geographic boundaries for every species in the same ecosystem would be impractical.").
Even if we were to assume that the Service could not confine its analyses to the project boundaries, the Forest Service's EIS is nevertheless valid. The Service never limited its analysis of cumulative effects to the Upper Sunday area. For the black-backed woodpecker, boreal owl, flammulated owl, lynx, and fisher, the Forest Service extended its analysis beyond the 12,345 acre Upper Sunday area to include the entire 28,485 acre Watershed. See Final EIS at IV:74, 77, 82, 83 (black-backed woodpecker, boreal owl, and lynx analyses cover Upper Sunday Watershed area); Biological Assessment, Addendum 2, at 5, 8 (same for flammulated owl and fisher analyses). To the extent that they challenge that the Service's decision not to extend its analysis beyond the Watershed, Plaintiffs have advanced no proof why this decision is arbitrary and capricious, as is their burden.
IV. Attorneys' Fees
Plaintiffs have requested attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (hereinafter "EAJA"). The EAJA awards fees to a party who prevails against the government if the government cannot show that its position in the litigation was "substantially justified." 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A),(B); Kali v. Bowen, 854 F.2d 329, 332 (9th Cir.1988). The EAJA applies in environmental cases. Marsh, 52 F.3d at 1491. Because Plaintiffs did not prevail in this litigation, we decline to award fees.
We therefore AFFIRM the decision of the district court and uphold the Forest Service's population viability and cumulative effects analyses. We DENY Plaintiffs' request for attorney's fees.
We are not persuaded. We believe that the Sharps court's reading of Regulations 219.19 and 219.3 is incorrect. Regulation 219.3 defines the "planning area" as "the area ... covered by a regional guide or forest plan." 36 C.F.R. § 219.3 (emphasis added). Because any district contained within the boundaries of a forest having a plan would be an "area ... covered by a ... forest plan," it would be also be a planning area governed by Regulation 219.19.