Enviros seek to help defend Forest Service planning rule from industry challenge
Written bySCOTT STREATER, Greenwire
Environmental groups want to help the Forest Service defend itself against a federal lawsuit filed last month by a coalition of logging, ranching and off-highway vehicle (OHV) groups challenging the agency's new planning rule for the nation's 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands.
The Western Environmental Law Center filed a motion late yesterday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of two Oregon-based conservation groups seeking to formally intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of the Forest Service.
A coalition of more than a dozen industry groups claims in its August complaint that the Forest Service overstepped its authority by requiring that new forest management plans provide "ecological sustainability" and "ecosystem services" and use best available science in decisionmaking, among other charges (Greenwire, Aug. 14).
The industry groups -- including the American Forest Resource Council, National Cattlemen's Beef Association and BlueRibbon Coalition, an OHV users group -- essentially state that the new planning rule ignores the congressional mandate to provide for multiple uses such as logging, ranching and motorized recreation.
The Forest Service has said the new planning rule, which is required by the National Forest Management Act, seeks to carefully balance the interests of all stakeholder groups.
But the conservation groups Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Oregon Wild argue that the industry lawsuit threatens that balance and could have broad implications for the agency's ability to manage forests nationwide.
"This lawsuit, if successful, could effectively ban conservation biology as a basis to help craft how we manage our national forests," said Pete Frost, a Eugene, Ore.-based attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center who is representing the two groups.
The industry lawsuit also reveals the plaintiffs' true belief that national forestlands should be managed primarily for resource extraction, said Joseph Vaile, program director for the Ashland, Ore.-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.
"These industry groups have a scary vision for our national forests," Vaile said. "Never before have we seen extraction industries so clearly state that they oppose the use of science on our national forests. Through this suit, these groups hope the keys to our national forests are handed over to private industry so they can be turned into private tree farms for their own benefit."
The Forest Service rule was finalized in March after more than two and a half years of public meetings and more than 300,000 public comments. Previous attempts to update the rule in 2000, 2005 and 2008 drew lawsuits from the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups and were either enjoined or abandoned, leaving the Reagan administration's 1982 planning rule in place.
The Obama administration rule, which emphasizes watershed restoration, drew praise from major environmental and sportsmen's groups, including former Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) (E&ENews PM, March 23).
"It comes as no surprise that the timber industry would like to see our national forests managed for logging," said Doug Heiken, Oregon Wild's conservation and restoration coordinator, "but it becomes truly bizarre when the timber industry must argue against science and in favor of crony capitalism in order to achieve their desired result."