Co-Plaintiffs file second suit against U.S. Forest Service in Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project

BLOOMINGTON – In response to the decision by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to proceed with the Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project, co-plaintiffs in a 2020 lawsuit against this project have again filed suit against the USFS in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, challenging the agency’s failure to comply with the Court’s April 2022 order in the prior lawsuit remanding the project to the USFS to examine its impacts on Monroe Reservoir.

The plaintiffs, which include the Indiana Forest Alliance, Monroe County Board of Commissioners, and Hoosier Environmental Council— in addition to Friends of Lake Monroe, which was not part of the prior lawsuit — argue that the USFS remains in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by ignoring the Court’s ruling to evaluate the environmental effects of this logging and burning project on Lake Monroe.

Julie Thomas

Speaking on behalf of the coalition of plaintiffs, Julie Thomas, of the Monroe County Commissioners stated, “It is clear the Forest Service has no intention to adhere to the Court’s ruling and that the agency has completely dismissed public concerns that the logging and burning operations will cause nutrient pollution, particularly sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous, to flow into the lake and potentially cause harmful algal blooms in this drinking water supply for more than 140,000 residents in the area.”

Jeff Stant

Jeff Stant, Executive Director of the Indiana Forest Alliance added, “This project is the largest logging and burning project ever approved for Hoosier National Forest. Logging on up to 4,300 acres and burning repeatedly on 13,000 acres will occur for more than a decade. The activities will take place on hilly ground with highly erodible soils, all of which drains to Lake Monroe. The Supplemental Information Report released by the Forest Service after the Court ruling contains no new data and makes no attempt to comply with the Court’s order to analyze the impacts of these activities on Lake Monroe. The Forest Service ignored our input which presented peer-reviewed studies documenting that even when Best Management Practices are used, these activities result in statistically significant increases in sediment and nutrient runoff to receiving streams.”

Dr. Sherry Mitchell-Bruker

Dr. Sherry Mitchell-Bruker, President of Friends of Lake Monroe states, “The Lake Monroe Watershed
Management Plan was developed by FLM along with numerous local organizations, including Hoosier National Forest. The South Fork of Salt Creek, where the Houston South Project is proposed, is a major source of sediment and nutrient pollution in the Lake. Ironically, while the Forest Service selectively references this Watershed Management Plan, the proposed project makes no commitments to reduce existing problems that contribute to sediment and nutrient pollution, nor does it explain how the massive level of logging and burning in the Houston South Project on steep slopes with highly erodible soils will not further pollute Lake Monroe and thus increase contaminant levels in the reservoir and the costs of treating these waters to make them potable.”

“The Forest Service has to comply with NEPA’s requirement to prepare a supplemental Environmental
Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement that fully evaluates the impact of this project on Lake Monroe. That is what the Court ordered. The failure of the SIR to present any new data or information, address any public input that was received or evaluate the impacts of the Houston South Project on Lake Monroe to any meaningful degree is a clear flouting of NEPA and the Court’s 2022 ruling. We are asking the Court to make the Forest Service comply with NEPA and accordingly not to let this project proceed pending NEPA compliance.” states Tim Maloney, Senior Policy Director for Hoosier Environmental Council.

The plaintiffs, in this case, are represented by the public-interest law firm Eubanks & Associates PLLC.
Link to complaint filing.