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Forest Thinning Project to Continue: Court Reverses Earlier Decision

July 4, 2008

By The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

Jul. 4–BONNERS FERRY — A thinning project to improve the vigor of old-growth trees on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest can continue after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed an earlier court decision halting the work.

The project calls for selective logging on nearly 4,000 acres northeast of Bonners Ferry to remove young trees growing underneath large, old trees. In 2003, the Forest Service proposed three timber sales and a controlled burn.

The agency said the work would improve old-growth habitat, reduce the risk of wildfire and protect water quality. No big trees were proposed for harvest.

The sales were challenged by The Lands Council of Spokane and the Wild West Institute.

The groups questioned the scientific methods used in the Forest Service’s analysis. They also said the agency failed to protect habitat for one of North America’s smallest owls. Flammulated owls weigh about 2 ounces. They eat insects and prefer pine forests with a brushy understory.

In a 56-page ruling, the appeals court denied the environmentalist groups’ request for an injunction.

“… As non-scientists, we decline to impose bright-line rules on the Forest Service” for the specific analysis it needs to make decisions, the judges said.

In this case, the Forest Service conducted on-the-ground studies of flammulated owls. According to the ruling, the agency also made a reasonable assumption that improving owl habitat would help protect owl populations in the future.

Boundary County, the cities of Bonners Ferry and Moyie Springs, and two logging companies intervened in the case on behalf of the Forest Service.

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