Colorado Court Halts Forest Service Logging of Beetle Infected Forests
Groups claimed logging threatens water and wildlife.
Rocky Smith, Rocky Mountain Wild, 970-385-9833
Mike Harris, University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Environmental
Law Clinic, 303-871-6140
Denver, CO –Two conservation groups won a lawsuit today challenging a massive logging project on the Rio Grande National Forest in southern Colorado. The court order issued by Judge William J. Martínez of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado puts a stop to logging on 3,436 acres that would have produced approximately 8.3 million board feet of timber (about 2,075 log trucks) and require 10.8 miles of road reconstruction. While the Forest Service claimed the logging would reduce current or potential impacts from insects and disease, Rocky Mountain Wild and WildEarth Guardians argued that logging and roads only further decline the forest health and watersheds.
“This is the headwaters of the Rio Grande and deserves the most cautious management,” says Bryan Bird, Public Lands Director at WildEarth Guardians. “The judge’s ruling in our favor will give the forests and wildlife in Colorado a serious reprieve from indefensible logging.”
Students at the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law provided legal representation. The court agreed with the conservation groups that the government failed to demonstrate in its environmental assessment that soils would not be impacted according to standards and that the Forest Service did not have adequate information on soil conditions. The court also agreed with the groups that the Forest Service did not have sufficient information on the infestation of Spruce Budworm in the logging area and that the Forest Service failed to demonstrate that the logging combined with the budworm mortality would meet the regeneration standards.
"The court has told the Forest Service, the game has changed, and you need to change with them if you are going to continue to permit these projects." Said Mike Harris, Director of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Environmental Law Clinic.
The Handkerchief Mesa timber sale area is near Wolf Creek Pass in Southern Colorado. Miles from any community or infrastructure, the forest is still recovering from vast clearcuts and over-logging in the latter half of the 20th century. The soils in the Handkerchief Mesa area are severely prone to erosion and landslide, and as a result, the area’s streams continue to be impacted by excess sediment resulting from past logging and road construction. In the conservation group’s opinion, the Handkerchief Mesa timber sale further threatens the soil health, hydrology and wildlife habitat an already fragile area.
"The soils of the Handkerchief Mesa Area have been damaged by past logging operations,” stated Rocky Smith, Rocky Mountain Wild's ForestWatch Program Director. "We are very pleased that the court agreed with us that the Forest Service must fully examine the past damage to these areas before allowing logging to reoccur."
Current economic conditions mean changes are not limited to forests; the housing crash has contributed to the worst lumber market in US history, calling into question the wisdom of costly timber sales on public lands. As Colorado’s forests face the largest insect outbreak in recent history, the Forest Service needs to focus its scarce resources on protecting human lives and infrastructure. Scientists agree that insect epidemics are largely natural and impossible to suppress. Logging projects such as Handkerchief Mesa, far from any community, will simply aggravate stressed forests and a stressed Federal Treasury. There is growing consensus that fire hazard reduction around Colorado’s communities should be a priority for lands managers.