Huckleberry land exchange ruled illegal
Old-Growth Forest on Huckleberry Mountain in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington was traded to Weyerhaeuser in 1998
May 24, 1999
Web posted at 4:50 PM EDT
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled May 19 that the Forest Service violated environmental laws when it exchanged land with a forest products company in Washington state. The court also told the company, Weyerhaeuser, to stop logging the land.
The Forest Service exchanged 4,400 acres of public, heavily forested land to Weyerhaeuser in the spring of 1998 for 30,000 acres of mostly logged company land spread over five counties.
The Pilchuck Audubon Society, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and the Huckleberry Mountain Protection Society sued to stop the transaction. Federal District Court Judge William Dwyer ruled in late 1997 that the exchange was in the public interest and the agency had violated no laws.
The environmental groups appealed that decision. In court, Weyerhaeuser lawyer Michael Himes argued that it was too late to repeal the exchange because the company had already "destroyed" 10 percent of the forest it got in the deal.
Nevertheless, the three-judge appeals court panel found Wednesday that the Forest Service had in fact violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws and remanded the land exchange decision to the Forest Service for further environmental analysis.
The court also told Weyerhaeuser to cease its logging and road building on the land at least until the Forest Service completes its analysis, which includes an examination of the potential impacts the logging operation would have on salmon spawning areas.
Janine Blaeloch, the director of the Western Land Exchange Project, an environmental group that has opposed the Huckleberry Land Exchange, was pleased by the ruling's implications for future land exchanges, but cautioned that it will prompt private traders to seek a legislative fix.
"Private parties timber and mining companies and developers may seek Congressional exchanges in order to bypass the public process, waiving NEPA and other environmental laws," she said in a statement.
Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved
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