Judge eases forest rules | VailDaily.com

Judge eases forest rules

Alex Miller

EAGLE COUNTY ” A federal judge Wednesday granted a request by environmental groups to clarify a recent ruling making it more difficult for the U.S. Forest Service to issue certain use permits without public comment.

The original ruling would have required the Forest Service to hold public comment and appeal on things like Christmas tree cutting, guide permits and mushroom gathering.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed in California in 2003 by a consortium of environmental groups concerned with a Forest Service policy called “categorical exclusion.” The rule is used in seemingly non-controversial cases, where the Forest Service can approve a use permit without extensive review and public input.

The consortium believed the Forest Service was using the exclusion rule too liberally, allowing public comment and appeal only in timber-cutting cases and allowing other things ” such as prescribed burns, road construction and off-highway vehicle route designations ” to pass un-reviewed.

In July, when U.S. District Judge James K. Singleton ruled in favor of the consortium, the effect was to make all categorical exclusions subject to comment and appeal. While the Forest Service lamented the red tape and paperwork the decision entailed, the environmental groups blamed the catch-all decision on the Forest Service, which they say refused to discuss a more rational solution.

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“All this stuff the Forest Service was shutting down was needless,” said Jim Bensman with Heartwood, a Midwest environmental group part of the plaintiffs’ consortium. “It just proves the Forest Service was acting in bad faith.”

In Eagle County, the decision delayed a sediment cleanup project at Black Gore Creek near Vail Pass. Over the pass at Copper Mountain, work was also halted on a new halfpipe under construction.

Wendy Haskins, a planner with the White River National Forest in Glenwood Springs, said Wednesday’s ruling appeared to be good news.

“We should be able to execute some of these programs as before,” she said, adding that “forest gathering” activities such as mushroom hunting or Christmas tree cutting should be exempt from the comment rule.

Ground-disturbing activities, like the ones at Copper Mountain and Black Gore Creek, may still be subject to scoping and review, Haskins said.

Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or amiller@vaildaily.com.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

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