Forest Service, Bowing to Court, Embraces Scrooge; D.C. Holiday Tree at Risk

Article excerpt

Byline: Audrey Hudson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A federal court ruling in favor of environmentalists is forcing the Forest Service to suspend more than 1,500 permits for activities ranging from fire prevention to Boy Scout meetings and also is threatening to delay cutting of the Capitol's Christmas tree until after the new year.

A Forest Service regulation that allowed projects determined as having minimal environmental impact to be exempt from environmental studies and reviews was challenged by the Earth Island Institute.

Judge James K. Singleton of the Eastern District Court of California ruled in July against a project to remove charred and damaged trees, which could kindle a future fire, in the Sequoia National Forest.

The court said last month in a follow-up ruling that its decision in Earth Island Institute v. Ruthenbeck applies nationwide, rather than just to the local dispute.

As a result, the Forest Service immediately suspended all "categorical exclusions," which approved the Sequoia project and had been used since 2002 to allow permits of numerous other activities, including trail upkeep at ski resorts and issuing outdoor guide permits.

"We are actively pursuing options in light of this nationwide ruling, including working with the Department of Justice to seek a stay of the ruling pending appeal," Forest Service chief Dale Bosworth told employees in a Sept. 23 memo.

Court documents and Forest Service memos show that the permits immediately suspended include hundreds of projects nationwide for fire prevention on tens of thousands of acres; nearly 100 guide permits for hunting, fishing, horseback riding and fishing; 150 wildlife habitat projects; 165 permits to maintain camp grounds and trails; 15 ski area projects that may shut down the upcoming ski season in some areas; and 40 permits for family reunions and Boy Scout and Girl Scout activities.

Under the new requirement of public notices, comment periods and appeals, the tree selected from a New Mexico forest for this year's Christmas display on the Capitol lawn would arrive around Valentine's Day. …