Allegheny Defense Project ...working for the protection of the natural heritage of the Alleghenies...

Hellbender Journal Autumn 2002

Federal Magistrate Recommends that

East Side Timber Sale be Halted!

By Jim Kleissler

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 biodiversity."

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 Buchele.

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 Heartwood.

"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 sound science."

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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