Six conservation groups are hoping a San Francisco-based appeals court will look more favorably upon a lawsuit than did a Montana judge who dismissed it.
At stake is the future of 47 roadless areas in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests. The conservationists, who announced their appeal Monday, believe logging should be banned in many of those areas.In their 1988 lawsuit, they argued that key information was missing from the environmental impact statement used for a 10-year management plan for the forests. Without more complete information, they believe the U.S. Forest Service can't justify its recommendation that only four roadless areas be designated as wilderness.
Federal attorneys argued before U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell that the agency can't be expected to give detailed explanations of each potential timber sale in a 10-year management plan. Environmental consequences of sales will be assessed one at a time, they said.
In August, Lovell ruled in favor of the Forest Service in a decision hailed by timber companies.
Environmental spokesman John Osborn argued that the Panhandle management plan is illegally vague.
"The Forest Service is telling the public that forest plans really don't make decisions," said Osborn, coordinator of the Inland Empire Public Lands Council.
"After spending millions of dollars and waiting 14 years for the agency to complete the forest plans, the American people will be surprised by the Forest Service's position that forest plans are mere plans to do more planning," he said.
Jim Riley, Intermountain Forest Industry Association, said the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals historically has been favorable to preservation interests.
It was a 9th Circuit judge who banned logging in Montana's Upper Yaak region for two years until a massive environmental impact statement was completed. Riley said he is relieved that conservationists aren't seeking a similar injunction in the Panhandle appeal.