Not in Our Forest, You Don’t, Greens Say

      SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – Uncle Sam refused to prepare an environmental impact statement before approving a 5,000-acre logging project in southern Utah that threatens rare and endangered species, including spotted and flammulated owls, goshawks, and three-toed woodpeckers, environmentalists claim in court.
     The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Native Ecosystems Council sued the U.S. Forest Service and Dixie National Forest Supervisor Angelita Bulletts, in Federal Court.
     The Forest Service in March approved the Iron Springs “vegetation improvement and salvage project,” authorizing 4,890 acres of commercial logging in Dixie National Forest.
     “Among other things, the Forest Service’s decision notice authorizes 3,603 acres of spruce/fir commercial logging utilizing ground-based skidders, at least 1,927 acres of which will occur in old-growth stands, 366 acres of commercial sanitation and salvage logging, 381 acres of precommercial thinning, 152 acres of regeneration logging, and 388 acres of ‘aspen cleaning’ in aspen stands, for a total of 4,890 acres of logging,” the complaint states.
     “The decision notice also authorizes road reconstruction and maintenance activities on 36.16 miles of existing roads and 9.61 miles of new, temporary road construction to facilitate logging activities.”
     The plaintiffs claim the Forest Service approved the project without preparing an environmental impact statement, “instead finding that the authorized activities would not significantly affect the quality of the environment.”
     That violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, the nonprofits say in their 17-page lawsuit.
     Dixie National Forest, headquartered in Cedar City, occupies 2 million acres in six counties.
     It hosts boreal toads, wild turkeys, Northern flickers, Northern goshawks and other species, including those listed above.
     The Iron Springs project area, with elevations from 9,000 to 10,700 feet in the Escalante Ranger district, provides habitat for the Mexican spotted owl and Utah prairie dog, both protected under the Endangered Species Act.
     “Project logging will decrease hiding cover for deer and elk,” the complaint states.
     In addition, the plaintiffs say, the project “will render unsuitable approximately 4,212 acres of suitable habitat” for the three-toed woodpecker and Northern flickers.
     Nonetheless, they say, the Forest Service refused to prepare an impact statement.
     “The Forest Service concluded that the project would not have a significant impact on the quality of the environment and thus declined to prepare an environmental impact statement,” the complaint states.
     The proposal is not the first of its kind for Dixie National Forest.
     “In 2003, the Forest Service authorized the Griffin Springs project in the same geographic area, and in many of the same forest stands, as the Iron Springs project to similarly address high stand densities, reduced aspen presence, and bark beetle infestations,” the complaint states.
     “The Forest Service determined that the Griffin Springs project was likely to significantly affect the quality of the environment and prepared an environmental impact statement to study five action alternatives.
     “Although a different alternative was ultimately authorized, the proposed action for the Griffin Springs project included logging on 5,022 acres in many of the logging units proposed in the Iron Springs project area.
     “In 2006, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded and enjoined the Griffin Springs project due to a flawed NFMA [National Forest Management Act] analysis.
     “The Forest Service asserts that the Iron Springs project is distinct from the Griffin Springs project, is subject to independent environmental analysis, and does not require the preparation of an environmental impact statement.”
     The plaintiffs claim their members, “who use and enjoy, and intend to continue to use and enjoy, the Iron Springs Project area frequently and on an ongoing basis in the future,” will be “irreparably injured” by the project.
     “The aesthetic, recreational, scientific, spiritual, and educational interests of plaintiffs’ members have been and will be adversely affected and irreparably injured if defendants implement the project,” the environmentalists say.
     They want the project enjoined, plus costs.
     They are represented by Raymond Berry with the Northern Rockies Justice Center, of Moscow, Idaho.

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