Environmental groups ask judge to stop new forest rules

The Associated Press
Saturday February 17, 2001

New regulations give the U.S. Forest Service too much freedom to decide how to manage the nation’s forests, environmental groups say. 

The regulations, released by the Clinton administration in November, made forest health the top priority for governing more than 190 million acres of federal lands.  

They gave Forest Service officials the ability to limit logging, skiing, hiking and other activities if they determined the activities could permanently harm the ecosystem. 

The Western Environmental Law Center, which planned to file suit Friday on behalf of a dozen conservation groups, says the regulations are ambiguous and it worries the Forest Service will misuse them. 

“Our basic problem is that they give way too much discretion to the Forest Service, and we do not feel the Forest Service has earned any trust over the last 20 years,” said Marc Fink, a lawyer with the law center. “More discretion to us means more logging.” 

A Forest Service official declined to comment. 

When the regulations were announced, the Forest Service cheered them as a much-need commitment to forest health, as well as other uses for the forest, including logging. 

“We cannot do things that could put resources at risk,” said Agriculture Department Undersecretary Jim Lyons, who oversees the Forest Service.  

“Ecological sustainability is the foundation upon which future management decisions will be made.” 

The overhaul of the regulations had been in the works since the first Bush administration.  

It was the first time in almost two decades the Forest Service changed the rules implementing the National Forest Management Act of 1976, a law that governs activities in federal forests. 

Earlier this month, William Banzhaf, executive vice president of the Society of American Foresters, wrote Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, who has oversight of the Forest Service, recommending the department re-examine the new regulations. 

“If these regulations are not changed, protection of native plant, animal and fish species could become the dominant, if not the exclusive, purpose for the 191 million acres of the National Forest System,” Banzhaf wrote, arguing the new regulations break the law. 

The environmental groups planed to file suit in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California. 

Among the groups were the Idaho Sporting Congress, Cascadia Wildlife Project and Citizens for Better Forestry.