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'Bouquet' Sent to Agency
By Alex Breitler, Record Searchlight
June 26, 2004

Groups won't appeal timber salvage project

Hundreds of appeals and lawsuits on timber sales make it time consuming, at least, to turn a proposal on paper into reality on the forest floor.

But this week, three conservation groups are proving they're not always naysayers.

The groups sent an unusual letter to the Klamath National Forest announcing a decision not to appeal a timber salvage project east of Mt. Shasta.

"We're going to pat them on the back," said George Sexton, conservation director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland, Ore. "We're trying to say, We're not against everything you do.'"

A U.S. Forest Service spokesman called the letter "refreshing."

It may be a symbolic gesture -- the proposed Little Horse salvage project doesn't involve any old-growth cutting, the very practice that has angered conservationists the most.

Instead, it would remove wind-toppled trees over nearly 5,000 acres near Tennant, about 20 miles northeast of McCloud.

Still, even projects such as these have been appealed in the past, said Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes. He said the number of appeals forces staff to spend an "incredible" amount of time planning.

"Probably a relatively small part of our time is spent on actually analyzing environmental effects," Mathes said. "A great deal of time gets spent sitting in front of a computer in an office looking at how to make the decision as appeal-proof and lawsuit-proof as possible."

Conservationists have been accused in recent years of doing whatever it takes to stall fuels reduction projects, while the fire danger grows in the nation's overstocked forests.

Exact numbers are hard to come by. Researchers at Northern Arizona University discovered the Forest Service had no database keeping track of the quantity of appeals.

After putting together its own database, a university study found the number of overall appeals has declined since 1998.

But a 2003 U.S. General Accounting Office survey shows that nearly 60 percent of the fuels reduction projects subject to appeal were in fact appealed. That's 194 projects across all national forests.

"It's frustrating to a lot of people in the Forest Service," Mathes said. "One of the reasons a lot of us join the agency is we do love the concept of public land. Frankly, putting out a two-inch thick environmental document uses a lot of paper and doesn't do a lot."

He added, however, that officials do take appeals seriously.

After praising the Klamath forest in his letter, Sexton writes that his organization's trust in that forest's timber program is "extremely low right now" thanks to seven other sales that would remove thousands of large-diameter trees.

He called the decision not to appeal a "significant leap of faith" for his group, as well as the Garberville-based Environmental Protection Information Center and the Klamath Forest Alliance, which also signed the letter.

Sexton couldn't say exactly how many appeals his group has filed. But the university study pinpoints 18 appeals in Oregon or Washington alone from 1997 through September 2002.

In addition, the group's Web site lists nine projects in California being closely watched, most in the contentious Klamath forest.

At least one lawsuit has been filed. A complaint against the Knob sale, which attracted tree-sitters near the Salmon River last summer, was dismissed by a judge in April.

Any individual or group can appeal a project. But since appeals are made to Forest Service supervisors, sometimes a lawsuit is necessary for an independent opinion, Sexton said.

"It's a lot like asking Kobe Bryant if Shaquille O'Neal really fouled someone," he said.

The sale near Mt. Shasta isn't perfect, Sexton said. Among other things, he protests applying fungicide to the tree stumps to prevent root disease.

But overall he calls it a welcome change.

"We can promise that any Klamath National Forest project that includes old-growth timber will be appealed, and will be litigated," he said.

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