Forest Service logging rule gets overturned
A Bush administration rule that allowed a significant amount of logging without environmental review was overturned last week by a federal appeals court.The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday blocked the practice that expedited logging of up to 1,000 acres, saying it violated the National Environmental Policy Act. Forest Service officials saw the decision as a step back in fuels management and fire prevention, but environmental and conservation groups greeted the ruling as a positive step toward responsible forestry practices.The hazardous fuels treatments were instrumental in saving thousands of homes in Southern California during recent wildfires near San Diego and Lake Arrowhead, Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell told the Associated Press.The 2003 rule was billed as a way to reduce wildfires as part of the Bush administrations Healthy Forests Initiative. It exempted from environmental review logging projects up to 1,000 acres and prescribed forest burns up to 4,500 acres.In a press statement, state Sen. Dave Cox said the decision puts special interests before the safety of residents who live in and around the forest/urban interface.People who live near the forest love the land and want to protect its natural resources just as much as the environmental groups, but they also want their community to be fire safe for their families, Cox said. The 9th Circuits decision is extremely frustrating as it did not take into consideration the fire-safety needs to reduce the risk of wildfires near homes.But ecologist Chad Hanson, director of the John Muir Project, said the environmental and conservation groups that backed the recent ruling arent against responsible fuels reduction.We oppose removing large fire-resistant trees under the guise of fuels reduction, Hanson said in a phone interview Friday. A lot of these categorically exempt projects done by the Forest Service recently involved removing remote, old-growth trees. This is the sort of abuse that damages the Forest Services credibility.The Forest Service still has options for fuels reduction and thinning, both with and without environmental review, Hanson said.Locally, Hanson said the categorically exempt rule was used in the Tahoe area, particularly in Eldorado National Forest to the west of the Basin.In its opinion issued Wednesday, the three-judge appeals court panel said the Forest Service had failed to properly analyze the rule, causing 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.Forest Service attorneys are still assessing the ruling and its impacts to decide whether or not to file an appeal, said Forest Service spokesperson Janice Gauthier by phone Friday.The case is Sierra Club v. Bosworth, 05-16989. The Tahoe Daily Tribune and the AP Contributed to this report.