Ruling sets an unmanageable standard - Surveys and analysis are no substitute for actual management of our forests.


Sunday, July 6, 2003

The Missoulian

The University of Montana is proposing to change the name of the School of Forestry to College of Forestry and Conservation. We have a better idea: Change it to College of Endless Studies. That would be more appropriate. Forestry and conservation are on their way out. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula has so ordered.

The judge ordered the U.S. Forest Service to halt logging in the Kootenai National Forest of northwestern Montana until the agency can document the existence of sufficient stands of old-growth forest and adequate populations of all the species that dwell within.

The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by two environmental groups opposed to salvage-logging of trees burned by wildfire three years ago. Judge Molloy on Tuesday ruled in their favor, saying the Forest Service can't prove what effect the logging might have on wildlife because it hasn't adequately documented and monitored what it's trying to protect.

The judge didn't say the Forest Service isn't doing enough to conserve old growth forests or the critters that live there. He didn't say the agency's logging operations are harmful. What he ruled is that the Forest Service lacks the evidence to prove they aren't harmful.

This ruling is similar in nature to another ruling from Molloy earlier this year, in which he halted forest-restoration work in the Lolo National Forest on the grounds that the Forest Service can't prove its assertion that the work will improve water quality in creeks over the long-run. Both rulings essentially prove U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth's contention that "analysis paralysis" is undermining the agency's ability to manage public forests.

Maybe Molloy is correct in his judgment. Maybe the law really does require the Forest Service to know far more than it does in order to make decisions. If so, then there's nothing to do but change the law.

Don't let anyone portray this business as a clash between those trying to save the forests and those who would destroy them. In fact, this is a conflict between people who think forests should be left alone and people who think they should be managed. The latter includes us. There are many things that bear further study in our forests, but that study shouldn't be a substitute for sound stewardship.


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