Environmentalists at least temporarily halted a planned timber sale in Garfield County with a win in federal court Friday.
The ruling by U.S. District Senior Judge Aldon J. Anderson was that the U.S. Forest Service must consider an appeal filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Sierra Club, even though it was filed more than 45 days after the decision was made to allow timber cutting on the mountain's Windmill Ridge.The timber sale involves 700 acres of old-growth ponderosa pine, with about 2 million board feet, on the southeast side of Boulder Mountain.
Michael F. Heyrend, the conservation groups' attorney, said the usual deadline for responding to such decisions is 45 days. But the Forest Service mailed the notice of the decision to the environmentalists eight days after the decision was made, he said.
The delay "ate up that portion of the 45 days," he said. When the decision arrived, conservationists contacted three Forest Service officials and asked if they could have 45 days from the time the decision was made to file their appeal. They were told they could, he said.
The groups filed the appeal 44 days after the decision was mailed. But then a higher agency official ruled that this was not timely, as it wasn't within 45 days from the time the decision was made.
At that point, late in 1988, the wilderness groups filed suit, claiming they were double-crossed.
Now the appeal is reinstated and the timber sale is at least temporarily halted while it is processed.
Rodney Greeno, public lands specialist for the Southern Utah Wilderness alliance, said, "The Windmill Ridge sale is particularly important because it's one of the last old-growth ponderosa stands that connect the summit of Boulder Mountain to the Escalante canyons below."
Asked the describe Windmill Ridge, he said, "It is just one of the amazing things to be walking through this magnificent forest with trees up to 4 feet in diameter, some 80, 90, 100 feet tall, and looking out across the canyons. The trees have a very special magic."