Environmentalists Ask Judge to Stop Logging in Burned-over Section of National Forest
MEDFORD, Ore. Environmentalists asked a federal judge Wednesday to temporarily block logging in a remote, burned-over section of a national forest that was purchased last week in the first such sale since the Bush administration eased logging restrictions.
Environmentalists said new studies show the logging would kill young trees and increase the danger of wildfire.
Lawyers for the U.S. Forest Service countered that the area is so small that the logging would cause no real harm.
U.S. Magistrate Owen M. Panner said he would rule on the environmentalists' request next Wednesday, and the Forest Service and the buyer of the timber agreed to delay the logging until then.
On Friday, a timber company bought the rights to log 261 acres of standing dead timber that was burned in a 2002 fire in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
Attorneys for the environmentalists argued that several scientific studies since the Forest Service planned the timber sale concluded that logging after a wildfire kills naturally sprouting seedlings, and leaves more fuel on the ground for future fires.
"The entire premise of this project has been rebutted by these scientific studies," attorney Marianne Dugan said in arguing for blocking the logging.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Odell said the primary purpose of the timber sale was economic, and that replanting the area and reducing the future danger of wildfire were secondary.
"This really is a policy issue," he said.
Forest Service lawyers added that the harvest would take place on only a small percentage of the burned-over region. The blaze charred roughly 500,000 acres in the rugged Klamath Mountains of southwestern Oregon. It was the nation's biggest wildfire in 2002.
The timber sale was on land known as an inventoried roadless area. Roadless areas are generally large tracts so remote and so rugged that logging there has long been considered uneconomical.
The Clinton administration severely restricted logging in roadless areas, but a federal judge in Wyoming overturned the rule in 2003. In 2004, the Bush administration adopted new rules that gave states the option of opening roadless areas to logging.
No new roads are to be built for the Oregon harvest, and instead helicopters would fly the logs out.
Last week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to stop the logging under a different lawsuit.
Source: Associated Press