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Rule blocked on logging, burning in national forests

Herald and News 12/6/07

   SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked a Bush administration rule that allowed logging and burning projects in national forests without first analyzing their effects on the environment.
   The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the U.S. Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued the 2003 rule, which was billed as a way to reduce wildfires as part of the administration’s “Healthy Forests Initiative.”
   Fuel reduction
   The “hazardous fuels reduction” rule exempted logging projects up to 1,000 acres and prescribed forest burns up to 4,500 acres from environmental review.
   In its opinion, the threejudge panel said the agency’s failure to properly analyze the rule has caused “irreparable injury” by allowing more than 1.2 million acres of national forest land to be logged and burned each year without studying the ecological impacts.
   The justices ruled that the Forest Service can no longer exempt such projects from environmental analysis until the rule itself can be properly analyzed.
   The San Francisco-based appeals court sided with the Sierra Club and Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, which sued the Forest Service and Department of Agriculture in 2004. Wednesday’s decision overturns a lower court ruling that favored the administration.
   The U.S. Department of Justice, which represented the federal agencies, is reviewing the court’s opinion and will decide whether to appeal, said David Shelledy, civil division chief of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Sacramento.
   Forest Service spokesman Joe Walsh said the agency believes the rule is a “useful tool,” but will comply with the court’s injunction.
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