Hellbender Journal Autumn 2002
Magistrate Recommends that
Timber Sale be Halted!
Federal Magistrate Judge Ila Jeanne Sensenich has
issued a recommendation that a logging project in the Allegheny
National Forest be halted as a result of a lawsuit filed by a coalition
of conservation groups. The recommendation was provided to District
Judge William Standish and upheld conservationist claims that managing
the Allegheny National Forest primarily for the commercially valuable
black cherry tree over other tree species violated the National
Forest Management Act. The lawsuit was initially filed in May, 2001.
If adopted, the Magistrate's recommendation would
halt the East Side Timber Sale - the largest timber sale on any
eastern national forest. The U.S. Forest Service would also be required
to revisit a management study prepared for endangered species management
and consider alternatives to its overwhelming use of clearcutting
in the Allegheny National Forest.
"This opinion verifies that the U.S. Forest
Service's use of clearcutting to perpetuate black cherry timber
at the expense of wildlife, soils, and old growth forest management
is illegal," explained Jim Kleissler with the Allegheny Defense
Project – the lead Plaintiff in the case. "The magistrate agreed
that the U.S. Forest Service has intentionally prioritized commercial
logging over legal requirements that they manage the Allegheny National
Forest for a broad range of uses including endangered species and
In her opinion, federal Magistrate Judge Ila Jeanne
Sensenich ruled that "Plaintiffs have presented an abundance
of evidence that [the U.S. Forest Service] chose the even-aged management
system over other harvest alternatives because it best fostered
the growth of black cherry...Making the decision primarily on this
basis is in direct contradiction of [the National Forest Management
Act], which requires that the decision of which method to use to
harvest timber must not be chosen 'primarily because it will give
the greatest dollar return or the greatest unit output of timber...'"
"The federal magistrate's report provides clear
and overwhelming evidence that the U.S. Forest Service compromised
forest biodiversity in the name of commercial logging," explained
Brian Laverty, President with the Pennsylvania Environmental Network,
one of the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
At issue is the U.S. Forest Service's management
for black cherry in the Allegheny National Forest. Black cherry
is a naturally rare species with high commercial value. Once comprising
less than 1% of the forest, black cherry now dominates 50% of the
forest understory due to intensive management practices including
clearcutting and herbicide spraying which eliminates naturally competitive
species. The Plaintiffs argued that other species important to wildlife,
and valued for their ecological and aesthetic qualities, were being
diminished in order to promote monocultures of the valuable cherry
trees. The federal magistrate agreed.
The East Side Timber Sale was part of the reason the
Allegheny National Forest was chosen as the most endangered of America's
155 national forests in a report released by the National Forest
Protection Alliance last year. Considered to be the largest timber
sale on any eastern national forest the East Side Timber Sale has
been the target of significant public protest with thousands of
letters and petition signatures filed in opposition.
"The Allegheny National Forest is the most endangered
national forest in all of America due to the intense logging and
drilling that goes on under the U.S. Forest Service’s management,"
said Susan Curry, Eastern Field Coordinator with Plaintiff National
Forest Protection Alliance. "All of America's national forests
are currently in danger under the Bush administration's forest policies,
but the Allegheny National Forest is on top of the list, due to
continually increasing logging, drilling, and road-building."
Plaintiffs include Allegheny Defense Project, Heartwood,
Pennsylvania Environmental Network, Communities for Sustainable
Forestry, the Sierra Club, the National Forest Protection Alliance
and numerous individuals. The Plaintiffs were represented by attorney
Tom Buchele. Buchele is the Director of the University of Pittsburgh
Law School's Environmental Law Clinic. The Law Clinic, however,
was not involved in this case which was handled independently by
The East Side timber sale called for 8,000 acres of
logging primarily through even-aged management, the cutting system
that emphasizes clearcutting. In addition, the East Side timber
sale called for more than 15 miles of new road construction and
3,500 acres of herbicide spraying. The East Side timber sale was
considered in an environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared pursuant
to an October, 1997, decision by Federal Judge William Standish
in a previous lawsuit filed by the Allegheny Defense Project and
"The Federal Magistrate has found that the U.S.
Forest Service failed to follow through on the Court's 1997 Order
against this same logging project," explained Jim Bensman,
Forest Watch Coordinator for Heartwood, a Plaintiff in the case.
"Once again the Courts have found that the U.S. Forest Service
continues to push their industrial logging plans instead of using
The Endangered Species Amendment, also at issue, adopted
conditions for managing the Allegheny National Forest for four federally
listed threatened and endangered species. At issue were protections
for the Indiana bat, Bald Eagle, and two species of freshwater mussels.
The Conservation groups argued that the Forest Service's failure
to look more closely at more selective cutting alternatives to clearcutting
violated federal law.
The Magistrate's recommendation must be approved by
the District Court Judge William Standish before it becomes law.
The U.S. Forest Service, as well as timber-company intervenors,
can still object to the magistrates findings.
"Special interests have taken control of our
national forest management policies to carry out narrow, shortsighted,
profit-driven agendas that have effectively subverted the public's
longer and wider legitimate interests," said James Rauch, an
Amherst, NY, volunteer with the Allegheny Defense Project. "It
is refreshing and gratifying to see that the Judicial branch will
require adherence to the letter of environmental laws."
Download a copy of the magistrate's recommendation
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