US Forest Service Robert's Gap Plan
On February 21, 2023, Earthrise Law Center, and Carney, Bates and Pulliam Law Firm, on behalf of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, filed a Complaint for Vacatur of Illegal Agency Decision, Declaratory and Injunctive Relief challenging the U. S. Forest Service’s October 27, 2021, Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact resulting in approval of the 40,000 acre Robert’s Gap Project
Read the May 17, 2023 USFS Answer to our Complaint here.
Read BRWA's Amended Complaint , June 6, 2023, here.
Read the Filing Schedule with Summary Judgment estimated by Jan. 30, 2024 here.
Read the press release here.
Follow the court docket here.
Find all U.S. Forest Service documents on the Robert's Gap Project here.
Robert's Gap is a 40,000 acre tract of US Forest Service(USFS) land in the headwaters of the Buffalo River. It is immediately upstream from the Buffalo National River boundary. In this area the Buffalo River is designated as a Wild and Scenic River. The Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area is also immediately adjacent to this tract and, besides the Buffalo, the White River, King's River, Mulberry River and War Eagle Creek all originate in the Robert's Gap area. Clearly this is a special place deserving of enhanced protection.
In 2017 the USFS introduced a far-reaching proposal (click "Decision" and read the Final EA) to manage the Robert's Gap tract. It includes approximately 11,000 acres of timber thinning and harvest, 11,000 acres of prescribed burning, 70 miles of road construction for timber removal, 20 miles of dozer lines for fire breaks, and 3,000 acres of herbicide treatment.
BRWA has serious concerns about this proposal and we have submitted comments and we then submitted objections when our concerns were not adequately addressed by USFS. Others submitted objections as well.
An objection resolution meeting was held on July 27 and on August 11th USFS released its responses to objections.
A Final Decision Notice (DN) was issued on October 27, 2021. It approved Alternative 3, "Other Resources" with some modifications. In response to the Objection Resolution meeting two additions were made: 1) to include water quality monitoring in several sub-watersheds, including testing for herbicide residuals, and 2) provisions to protect the Indiana bat maternity colony which was discovered in July, 2021. Most forestry activities will be delayed until October, 2022 to allow for the collection of water quality baseline data.
BRWA is consulting with Earthrise Law Center regarding this project. As part of that collaboration we submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to USFS on August 13, 2021 requesting supporting documents referenced in the EA. Due to an incomplete response we submitted a second request on November 18,2021. USFS did not respond to this second request in a timely way and, in order to preserve our legal standing, on December 10, 2021, Earthrise filed an appeal on our behalf.
On May 24, 2022 Earthrise submitted this letter regarding the need for additional NEPA analysis, either a Supplemental Environmental Analysis or an Environmental Impact Study, in connection with the Robert's Gap Project.
Our legal challenge asks the court to require an Environmental Impact Study or Supplemental Environmental Assessment before the project begins, particularly in light of the discovery of the endangered Indiana bat colony after the EA was completed. This maternity colony is the first of its kind to be found in the Ozarks (see press release below). This discovery alone was significant enough to have triggered a Supplemental EA. We are also concerned about the impacts of sediment and siltation flowing into the Buffalo National River and other streams due to runoff from the extensive activities on the large tract and the fact that the EA included no provisions for baseline water sampling.
Check this page for updates as the legal challenge proceeds.
Some related documents:
Forest Plan Amendment for Bat Conservation, the "Bat Amendment", March 17, 2021
Indiana Bat Maternity colony found in Robert's Gap, Press Release, July 26, 2021