Ready to burn

Judge reinstates sweeping forest protections

 20 September 2006

published by

Portland, OR, USA — A federal judge today reinstated a Clinton administration rule putting 58.5 million acres of roadless national forests — including almost 2 million in Oregon — off-limits to logging, mining and other development.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte in San Francisco ruled the Bush administration had illegally repealed the 2001 rule and replaced it with a new version that required states to petition for protection of the roadless areas.

The ruling is a blow to the Bush administration, which argued its new version of the rule better respected the needs of states. It is a win for environmental groups that rallied thousands of people in support of roadless protections for remaining undeveloped sections of national forest.

A spokesman for Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who had joined a lawsuit to resurrect the original roadless protections, called the ruling a “huge victory.”

Gov. Ted Kulongoski said the judge’s reinstatement of protections for 2 million acres of roadless national forests in Oregon should pave the way for better cooperation between state and federal forest managers.

“I just want us now to move forward,” he said after a campaign stop in downtown Portland early this afternoon.

He also said the Forest Service should immediately halt logging in roadless areas of southwestern Oregon burned by the 2002 Biscuit Fire.

The governor, a Democrat, said the Bush administration’s attempt to undo the protections first enacted by the Clinton administration in 2001 has diverted attention from critical work to restore forest health. Large areas of overgrown forests are considered at high risk of catastrophic wildfires.

He said the long-running dispute over the roadless areas, which he wants protected, has stood in the way of cooperative efforts to correct those conditions. He said the Oregon Department of Forestry and Oregon State University have expertise that could help the Forest Service to better manage public forests in the state.

“What we should be focusing on is coming together to better manage these forests,” he said.

But timber industry leaders said Kulongoski’s own legal fight to restore the roadless protections stood in the way of cooperation.

“He made it stand in the way,” said Chris West of the American Forest Resource Council in Portland. “He chose to litigate.”

It was not immediately clear how the ruling would affect logging of burned trees in roadless areas of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forests in southwest Oregon. Laporte barred the U.S. Forest Service from any further actions that would violate the Clinton roadless rule.

Environmental attorneys said that means the logging of the trees burned by the 2002 Biscuit Fire should cease immediately.

Kulongoski had argued the logging violated the intent of the original roadless protections and sought a court order stopping it. Laporte has not yet ruled directly on that request, said Mike Carrier, natural resources policy adviser to the governor.

Forest Service spokeswoman Patty Burel said federal attorneys are still reviewing the decision before deciding how it affects the Biscuit logging. She said there are two active timber sales in roadless areas burned by the Biscuit Fire. On one, Mike’s Gulch, timber has already been cut. On the other, Blackberry, cutting is now under way.

Laporte ruled that the Bush administration violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by repealing the 2001 roadless protections without analyzing the environmental impacts or the effects on federally protected species.

Kulongoski said he will continue work on a petition seeking reinstatement of roadless protections, as the Bush administration’s rule requires. Although today’sm court decision threw out the Bush rule, the governor said he will continue the petition until he learns whether the administration will appeal the ruling.

You can read the 55-page ruling by clicking on the attachment button below.


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