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Judge rejects tree selection process

Six Biscuit fire timber sale sites can't be logged until the Forest Service comes up with a new way of picking trees to be cut
Wednesday, August 04, 2004

A federal judge Tuesday blocked logging of six parcels of timber scorched by the 2002 Biscuit fire, agreeing with environmental groups that federal officials were illegally allowing loggers to select which trees to cut.

U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan said federal law prohibits anyone with a personal interest in a timber sale from choosing which trees are logged. He ordered no logging of six timber sales planned in older forest reserves until the U.S. Forest Service comes up with a new way of selecting trees for harvest.

Three of the six sales in southwest Oregon's Siskiyou National Forest had already been auctioned and logging of some of the wood was likely to begin shortly. They were among the very first of what are scheduled to be many sales of charred trees.

Although barring the sales because of how trees would be picked, Hogan dismissed other arguments that had been leveled by activist groups fighting the logging plans. He found few of the problems they have alleged in the federal decision to cut dead trees on less than 5 percent of the land charred by the 500,000-acre Biscuit blaze.

As far as salvaging the dead trees, "the public interest appears fractured," Hogan wrote. "Opposition to the project is vocal. Yet the court has so far found that the project for the most part appears to comply with duly enacted environmental laws which also reflect the public interest."

But he said the public interest would not be served by allowing logging that violates laws governing the selection of trees.

Forest Service employees in most cases mark either trees to be cut or those to be left behind. In the case of Biscuit, officials instead specified that only dead trees could be logged and that a certain amount of timber must be left behind.

They felt marking the trees would have been an unnecessary expense, and officials planned to closely watch which trees were cut, said spokeswoman Judy McHugh.

Environmental groups had sued to block only the timber sales immediately anticipated in reserves designated for older forest preferred by northern spotted owls and other wildlife. Two other sales purchased outside the reserves were not affected by the ruling and may proceed.

Logging in the reserves and in undeveloped roadless areas is considered the most controversial part of the Biscuit project that, altogether, is one of the largest sales of timber in Forest Service history.

Mark Fink of the Western Environmental Law Center, one of the attorneys who sued on behalf of logging opponents, said he was pleased with the ruling. He said the groups that brought the lawsuit will carefully watch how the Forest Service proceeds.

Hogan gave environmental groups little hope of prevailing on their arguments beyond how the trees were marked. He concluded, for instance, that the Forest Service was justified in accelerating the logging plans because the decaying timber would otherwise lose value.

In doing so, the Forest Service decided to let logging begin before appeals opposing the project could be resolved.

Michael Milstein: 503-294-7689; michaelmilstein@news.oregonian.com





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