The Associated Press

COUER D'ALENE, Idaho (AP) -- A federal judge has decided to put the brakes on a timber harvest project planned on more than 2,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land in Idaho's panhandle region.

This week's ruling by U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge handed a victory to environmentalists and shuts down the Bussel Creek Forest Health Project, which also included more than five miles of new road construction, recreation enhancements and fire protection projects.

The Spokane, Wash.-based Lands Council sued in federal court to stop the cutting of trees, including mature stands on forest land eight miles near the small town of Clarkia. Attorneys for the group claimed that logging and other activity would have fragmented mature forest habitat critical to species like the Northern Goshawk and Pileated Woodpecker.

"The court's order requires the Forest Service to actually search for and find key wildlife they have merely assumed still exist in a project area, before they authorize more logging and road building," said Jeff Juel, the council's forest policy director.

Idaho Panhandle National Forest Spokesman Jason Kircher said the agency was reviewing the decision but that one of the goals of the timber harvest was to improve overall forest health.

Juel said the ruling forces the agency to reconsider how it considers fires and fire management in future environmental studies of timber cuts and other forest projects.

The environmental group initially filed an administrative appeal of the Bussel Creek project in 2008, but lost its case at that level. The group followed with a lawsuit in federal court.

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Information from: Coeur d'Alene Press, http://www.cdapress.com

Copyright 2010 The AP.

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