Judge Overrules Decision Allowing Logging of Burned Trees

USA:  Judge Overrules Decision Allowing Logging of Burned Trees

10 January 2002

Source and Copyright:  The New York Times On The Web

ASHINGTON, Jan. 8 — A federal judge in Montana has blocked a Bush administration decision, issued last month, that would have allowed logging on more than 40,000 acres of the Bitterroot National Forest. It was not immediately clear how the administration would respond. The ruling was a setback for the timber industry, which was hoping to begin a large-scale salvaging project immediately for the trees harmed by fires in 2000 before they rot and lose their value. In his opinion, Donald W. Molloy, chief judge of Federal District Court in Missoula, halted the project and took the administration and the Forest Service to task for issuing their decision administratively and avoiding the customary 45-day public appeals process. The move, Judge Molloy said, looked like “an extralegal effort to circumvent the law.”
 “It is presumptuous to believe that the agency’s final decision has a perfectionabout it that would not be illuminated by interested comment, questioning or requests for justification of propositions asserted in it,” he wrote. Judge Molloy, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, argued at some length that the Forest Service action strained credulity and said the idea that a signature by an administration official would carry enough weight to skirt the appeals process was “mystical legal prestidigitation.” The official is Mark Rey, under secretary for natural resources and environment in the Agriculture Department. He signed an administrative order on Dec. 16 that cleared the way for the sale of 176 million board feet of ponderosa pines that are dead or dying from the fires. The Forest Service estimated that the projects would create 4,000 jobs and pump more than $75 million into the local economy. The service also said some of the money from the timber sale would help replant trees and repair stream beds. Mr. Rey, a former lobbyist for the timber industry, said at the time that the decision to bypass the appeals process was legal. He also said it was necessary because the timber needed to be salvaged quickly and because the environmental groups would sue anyway.Mr. Rey said the judge’s decision, issued late Monday night, was disappointing. He added that he would “work closely with the Department of Justice to determine what the next appropriate steps are.” The administration could begin a public appeals process or it could appeal Judge Molloy’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco.Mr. Rey referred questions to Bill Mercer, United States attorney for the District of Montana, who issued a statement saying he would consult Mr. Rey and others before any appeal. Mr. Mercer’s statement noted that the government had argued that the salvaging operation would cause no irreparable harm. He said that the environmental
groups that had sought the decision would not eventually prevail on the merits of their case and that the public interest favored proceeding on the project, “given the environmental and economic benefits associated” with it. Another Bush administration official said the decision was a Pandora’s box because it could open to question other decisions made by the Clinton administration. Spokesmen for the environmental groups that sought the court order based strictly on the lack of appeals and not on the merits of the logging operation said they did not oppose all logging in the Bitterroot. Doug Honnold, a lawyer with EarthJustice, a law firm that represents the groups, said that Mr. Rey’s initial action was an attempt to prop up a dying industry “under the guise of responding to a forest fire.” 
“It’s an effort,” Mr. Honnold said, “to reinstate a logging industry in a locale where it’s hard to make a dime cutting trees because they’re difficult to grow, you’ve got high elevations and a short growing season.” 


WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien