Pining for Justice

Once again, a legal effort aims to compel the Forest Service to follow its own logging rules

The environmentalists first filed suit on the plan amendments on September 28, while Muecke's injunction was still in place, because it appeared as if the amendments would not be applied to those timber sales that had been marked before the injunction. The suit required the Forest Service to go back and reconfigure those 26 areas before they were put out to bid.

Then on December 5, a day after the Muecke injunction was lifted, Regional Forester Cartwright issued a three-paragraph decision that the sales would stand as marked.

Cartwright's directive concludes, "[T]he Forest Plan direction that became effective June 16, 1996, will be used in development of all new decisions. There is no requirement to apply this direction retroactively with decisions made prior to these amendments."

"But the law clearly says that you can't permit or contract a sale unless it meets the Forest Plans," Suckling complains. "It's a particularly cynical maneuver right now because we just went through this two-year-long battle."

The National Forest Management Act of 1976 does say explicitly: "When land management plans are revised, resource plans and permits, contracts and other instruments, when necessary, shall be revised as soon as practicable."

The environmentalists petitioned for a new injunction to demand that all those projects that don't conform to the new guidelines be revised. The Forest Service declined to comment except to note that it had not reviewed the complaint.

But as for the content, Milo Larsen at the Forest Service regional headquarters in Albuquerque says, "That's what litigation is about. It'll just have to be argued out."

And whether or not the law is clear-cut has not stopped clear-cuts in the past.

"These guys don't care about anything but a court order," says Kieran Suckling. "And even then they haven't been successful in following court orders. You have to pound them over the head constantly to make them do anything. The agency appears to be completely devoted to producing as much timber as possible.

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