A federal judge in California has halted work on two timber sales and a prescribed burn in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
An injunction issued by a Judge Garland Burrell of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern district of California, on Nov. 26, is the latest in an exchange of legal rulings prompted by a 2004 lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club against the U.S. Forest Service.
The lawsuit challenges the agency's 2003 policy that exempts logging on sites less than 1,000 acres and prescribed burning projects on sites less than 4,500 acres from appeals. Those exempt sites, called "categorical exclusions" (CEs) are still subject to environmental impact studies but are allowed a shortened time-frame for review.
The Sierra Club has argued that the CE policy is in violation of the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act.
This latest injunction stops progress on any CE project that is less than 75 percent finished. Six projects in the Wallowa-Whitman were more than 75 percent completed and are unaffected by the injunction, according to the Forest Service.
The Forest Service anticipated the injunction on another five CE projects and managed to change horses midstream, providing environmental assessment decision notices prior to sale.
The two sales that were affected by the injunction include the 1.3 million board foot "Simmons" sale in the Wallowa Valley Ranger District. The Simmons project was sold to Henderson Logging of Wallowa in Oct. 17, 2007, and is 65 percent done. Loggers had cut about 800,000 board feet, according to Wallowa-Whitman National Forest sales officer Carla Monismith. No one was working on the site when the injunction shut work down, but the site was eligible for winter logging.
The second site affected by the injunction was "New California" on the Whitman Ranger District. New California was sold to Iron Triangle in Aug. 14, 2007. Harvest was 50 percent complete at the time of the injunction.
The Forest Service is not sure what it will do to return to logging operations, according to Monismith.
"We'll have to look at Simmons and New California to see if we can continue them and I have not heard if the Forest Service will challenge the injunction," Monismith said.
The prescribed burn that was halted was actually 80 percent complete on Forest Service land, Monismith said. That burn, the "Clear Lake Fuel Reduction" in the Wallowa Valley Ranger District, was a joint project between the Nature Conservancy and the Forest Service. The Forest Service considers their portion of the burn to be adequate for fire control and has no plans to appeal the injunction.
"We feel we've accomplished what we needed, so we won't pursue this any further," Monismith said.
The Nature Conservancy, as a private entity, is not affected by the injunction.