Halt Boone Logging Now, Judge Orders

By John Cheves


A federal judge handed environmentalists a major victory yesterday by ordering an immediate halt to all logging in Kentucky's massive Daniel Boone National Forest. In his order, U.S. District Judge Karl S. Forester of Lexington said the U.S. Forest Service cannot allow timber cutting in the 687,000-acre forest until it creates a plan to protect several species of endangered plants and animals that live there.

"We just won big-time," said Connie May, a Franklin County member of the non-profit environmental group Kentucky Heartwood, which was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Forest Service.

"Our dream all along has been to get logging banned in the Daniel Boone National Forest forever," May said. "Today's measure was only temporary, but we hope to win a permanent victory in the not-too-distant future."

Nine logging operations must be suspended or canceled in order to comply with Forester's ruling, which could cause some inconvenience, said Kevin Lawrence, planning staff officer for the Daniel Boone National Forest. A forest-management plan might not be ready for Forester's consideration until this winter at the earliest, Lawrence added.

"We're trying to meet the needs of as many different users of the forest as we can, while protecting the resources and the character of the forest that everyone enjoys so much," he said. "This (order) is an added difficulty that we'll now have to work through."

While acknowledging his disruption of the profitable timber trade on public land, the judge said his preliminary injunction is necessary to protect the biological diversity of the forest. Among the endangered species that call the forest home: Cumberland rosemary, American chaffseed, oyster mussels and the Indiana bat.

"Flora and fauna come and go; it is the nature of life," Forester wrote. "It is only in modern times that the extinction of a species, plant or animal, can be traced directly to the acts of man. The court finds that the greater good is served by preserving the habitats of the endangered and threatened species and thus preserving these species for generations to come," he wrote.

Kentucky Heartwood and a larger multi-state organization, Heartwood, sued the Forest Service in September, accusing it of four illegal logging practices:

Failure to formally consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the effects of logging on endangered species, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

Violations of the National Forest Management Act by the exclusive use of clear-cutting logging in the forest, instead of balancing it with the culling of only older trees.

Failure to consider alternatives to clear-cutting, which violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

Failure to adopt updated policies in its forest-management plan, which violates the National Forest Management Act.

"The Forest Service is not doing its job," May said. "It's not jumping through the hoops it's supposed to, and a lot of us feel the Forest Service is not open to public input, as it should be."

Forester said he sympathizes with the Forest Service, because the national forests are required to produce timber at the same time they shelter endangered species.

"Congress has placed the Forest Service between a rock and a hard place," he wrote. Forester said he will consider whether logging can resume after the Forest Service - working with the Fish and Wildlife Service - produces a forest-management plan that shows how timber cuts can be done without threatening endangered species.

An attorney for Kentucky Heartwood, while praising Forester's ruling, said he was angry that the Forest Service had continued to allow timber cutting while the lawsuit was pending. Attorney Joe F. Childers said Forester made it clear last year that the Forest Service wasn't following the rules when he blocked controversial timber cuts along Leatherwood Creek in Wolfe and Menifee counties, near the Red River Gorge.

"We filed this lawsuit in September, and if the Forest Service had halted the logging at that time, a lot of trees would still be alive now," Childers said.

In his order yesterday, Forester noted that timber companies remain free to remove trees from private land in Kentucky, which is where 95 percent of the state's desirable hardwood trees can be found.

"Of course," the judge added, "timber companies prefer logging on public lands because the government charges less than private landowners, and because the government builds roads for the loggers at public expense.

However, Forester wrote, "the fact that loggers will not be ‘subsidized’ by the U.S. Forest Service ... is not afforded much weight by the court" in making yesterday's ruling. _