U.S. Forest Service Halts Houston South Project

In response to a lawsuit brought forth by Friends of Lake Monroe and three other organizations, the U.S. Forest Service will not start work on the Houston South Restoration Project this spring.  Friends of Lake Monroe is very pleased that the decision was made to protect water quality in Lake Monroe.  The proposed project involved burning as much as 15,000 acres of forest and applying herbicide to more than 2,100 acres near Lake Monroe over the next 10 to 15 years.  Sherry Mitchell-Bruker, President of the Friends of Lake Monroe, states, “Lake Monroe is already suffering from high levels of sediment and nutrient pollution. We are relieved that this Court is requiring the Forest Service to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirement to examine the impacts of the extensive logging and burning in the Houston South Project on our drinking water supply. We hope this decision will encourage the agency to respect the concerns of the local community and recognize the responsibility of the Forest Service to protect and not degrade water quality.”

Back in May 2020, The Indiana Forest Alliance, Monroe County Board of Commissioners, and Hoosier Environmental Council sued the Forest Service, arguing that the Houston South Restoration Project had not complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  An initial ruling in March 2022 found that the

Forest Service had “failed to fully evaluate the environmental effects to Lake Monroe” and that the court expected the agency to provide a “convincing statement of reasons” as to why the project’s impact on Lake Monroe would not be significant.  In response, the Forest Service issued a Supplemental Information Report in October 2022 and stated that a “correction, supplement, or revision to the project’s Environmental Assessment” was “not necessary.”  The forest service declared its intent to move forward with the project in the spring.

In January 2023, Friends of Lake Monroe joined the three original co-plaintiffs to sue the Forest Service again, requesting a preliminary injunction to halt all work on the Houston South project until the judge could make a final decision.  On Wednesday, March 29, the federal court granted a preliminary injunction.  On April 4, the Forest Service withdrew their Supplemental Information Report, meaning they’ve elected not to defend the document in court.  The Forest Service must conduct further evaluation of the project before moving forward.

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