Groups lose bid to block salvage
500 of 60,000 burned acres to be logged, replanted with trees
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
A federal judge has declined to stop the harvest of burned trees in the Klamath National Forest, rejecting a plea by environmental groups to postpone the salvage project.
As part of the project, more than 500 acres of dead and dying trees would be logged by cable to prevent soil disturbance and much of the land would be replanted with new conifer seedlings.
The area was burned during a catastrophic fire in 2008. More than 60,000 acres of the national forest along California's northern border were affected. The blaze was so hot that it destroyed seeds that would otherwise allow the forest to regenerate naturally.
The U.S. Forest Service announced the project earlier this year and put it on a fast track to avoid administrative appeals. Delaying logging operations would degrade the value of timber by more than $500,000, the agency said.
Several environmental groups -- Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath Forest Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity -- soon filed a lawsuit seeking to block the project.
According to the plaintiffs, the project would promote erosion, remove needed woody debris and disturb sensitive riparian areas, contrary to agency policies and environmental laws.
The economic rationale behind the expedited schedule is undermined by the fact that the Forest Service will end up with a net financial loss from the project, the plaintiffs said.
The groups asked a federal judge in California to prohibit logging in the area until the Forest Service completed a more thorough environmental review of the project.
The agency argued the project will "accelerate the development of a conifer overstory and will stabilize streambanks," with logging necessary to remove dangerous snags from roadsides.
U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell sided with the Forest Service, ruling that the environmental groups "failed to show a likelihood of success, or raise a serious question, on the merits of any of their claims."
Though the plaintiffs did not obtain a preliminary injunction against the project, they can still try to demonstrate the operation was approved in violation of environmental laws.