December 12, 2003
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
COURT IMPOSES INJUNCTION ON SIERRA POST-FIRE LOGGING PROJECT
San Francisco - The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district judge’s denial of preliminary injunction yesterday on a massive, post-fire logging project near Lake Tahoe on the Eldorado National Forest. The Ninth Circuit found that the logging project likely violated federal environmental law and would harm imperiled wildlife. The court ruled that the Forest Service likely violated the Sierra Framework and the National Environmental Policy Act in approving logging in occupied California spotted owl habitat. The 1,700-acre logging proposal would have cut thousands of large green trees under the pretext of restoration after fire.
The Star fire of 2001 burned through about 16,800 acres in the Tahoe and Eldorado National Forests and on private timberlands. Despite the fact that much of the forest burned only lightly and many living trees remained, the Forest Service proposed the "Star Fire" project to log the entire area. The John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit, arguing that the Forest Service's logging project would harm the California spotted owl, a declining species that depends on older trees for nesting. The plaintiffs’ site inspections of the area showed that much of the forest was green and alive, contrary to Forest Service assertions. The Ninth Circuit's opinion agreed with plaintiffs that the continued presence of owls after the fire, and plaintiffs’ evidence about numerous green stands ignored by the government, undermined the agency’s claim that such areas are no longer suitable habitat.
"This ruling is a strong signal to the U.S. Forest Service that
they cannot continue to misrepresent conditions on the ground in order
to justify logging," said attorney Rachel Fazio of the John Muir
Project, who represented the plaintiffs.
The court also ruled that the Forest Service failed to adequately
analyze the cumulative impacts of multiple logging projects in the
Sierra Nevada. The national forests in the Sierra Nevada are currently
managed under the Sierra Framework, a comprehensive management and
restoration plan approved in early 2001. The Bush Administration has
recently proposed to gut the Framework and allow more logging of large,
The National Fire Plan states "the removal
of large, merchantable trees from forests does not reduce fire risk
and may, in fact, increase
such risk. Fire ecologists note that large trees are 'insurance for
the future - they are critical to ecosystem resilience.' Targeting
smaller trees and leaving both the large trees and snags standing addresses
the core of the fuels problem."