Groups Sue to Block Logging

By BEN NEARY | The Santa Fe New Mexican


Two Santa Fe environmental groups have sued the U.S. Forest Service to block logging of forest areas in the Jemez Mountains that burned two years ago.

Forest Guardians and Santa Fe Forest Watch, groups that commonly challenge federal agencies' management decisions, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit claims the planned salvage logging on 950 acres in two sections, one near Cuba and the other near Fenton Lake, would violate federal laws.

John Horning, director of Forest Guardians, said Wednesday the proposed logging threatens endangered Mexican spotted owls that nest in the areas.

"The project has nothing to do with promoting forest health or protecting the public," Horning said. "It's about giving away the public's timber at fire-sale prices and driving wildlife to extinction."

The areas burned in the summer of 2002, and Horning said Forest Service biologists saw a pair of owls in one of the burned areas in April. They saw fledglings in the area last summer, he said.

Forest Service management in November dismissed appeals of the logging plans on the grounds that the spotted owls no longer occupied "protected activity centers" that had been designated in the forest. Logging would no longer harm the owls, the agency said.

The environmental groups are talking to the Forest Service, Horning said, and hope the agency will agree to delay logging. If not, he said the groups might seek a court order to block the logging.

The Forest Service has said it wants to cut the burned trees to help the local economy.

"The purpose and need for this project is to recover the timber value of the fire-killed trees while protecting other resource values," the Forest Service stated in its environmental-assessment document for the project. "Specific objectives include contributing to the regional economy of Northern New Mexico by providing forest-based and wood-products manufacturing jobs, and providing citizens with the opportunity to gather wood products such as posts and poles, firewood, biomass, vigas and latillas both for resale and personal use."


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