March 24, 2006

Court OKs Bid to Block Burned Tree Logging

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - An environmental group may proceed with its bid to block harvesting of burned trees in the El Dorado National Forest because forest managers have not adequately assessed the effect of the logging on the endangered California spotted owl, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday.

The court also sharply criticized the U.S. Forest Service, saying the agency is putting potential timber profits ahead of environmental regulations.

The Earth Island Institute has a strong likelihood of success in its court challenge to obtain an injunction against the Forest Service's harvesting plans, according to the ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The ruling reverses a lower court's decision backing the Forest Service.

The San Francisco-based appeals court found the Forest Service in its logging plans overpredicted how many trees died in wildfires and did not fully assess how California spotted owls, which are on the U.S. endangered species list, use the scorched habitat.

"The likely consequence of the apparent overprediction of tree mortality is excessive logging. This likely logging, in turn, is likely to produce adverse effects on the California spotted owl that are not adequately analyzed" in Forest Service plans, according to the opinion by Judge William Fletcher.

"We have noticed a disturbing trend in the USFS's recent timber-harvesting and timber-sale activities," Fletcher said, referring to other federal lawsuits against the Forest Service.

"It has not escaped our notice that the USFS has a substantial financial interest in the harvesting of timber in the National Forest ... the USFS appears to have been more interested in harvesting timber than in complying with our environmental laws."