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Fuming in the forest.

Byline: The Register-Guard

So much for the Forest Service's silly snit fit.

After a federal District Court in California ruled July 2 that the Forest Service had to take public comment on all projects, the federal agency responded with a punitive, massively out-of-proportion suspension of nearly 1,500 activities nationwide - from mushroom picking in the Willamette National Forest to the cutting of an 80-foot spruce in New Mexico that was to serve as the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree.

The Forest Service disingenuously argued that all such activities were affected by U.S. District Judge James Singleton's order. The overreaction was a transparent Bush administration ploy aimed at creating a public uproar by halting trivial, everyday activities that obviously should not require an extensive public process. By doing so, it hoped to build support for legislation that would even further reduce already-diminished public participation in logging decisions on national forests.

On Wednesday, Singleton clarified his earlier ruling. The judge said the agency needs to take public comments and consider appeals only on major projects, such as timber sales and prescribed burns, not on permits for hunting guides or weddings on national forest land.

Singleton's ruling stemmed from a 2003 lawsuit by environmental groups challenging the harvest of burned trees on the Sequoia National Forest in California. The timber sales had been approved under what is called a categorical exclusion, which under rules adopted two years ago by the Bush administration does not allow for public comment or appeals.

In his clarification, the judge said that when he suspended the 2003 regulations he intended for the Forest Service to go back to regulations that were previously in effect. Under those rules, only major activities such as timber sales, prescribed burning and oil and gas exploration were subject to comment. The judge also denied a Forest Service request to lift his earlier order pending appeal. He said that the Forest Service had not shown it was likely to win an appeal and the "irreparable harm" the agency claimed would go away now that he had clarified his order.

The Forest Service knew better, of course. But it couldn't resist the temptation to engage in petty and manipulative retaliation. So it spent two foot-stamping weeks suspending 115 permits for guided hunting, fishing, river and horseback trips; 14 projects on ski areas and 98 permits for public utilities and communication sites. Even National Guard training on the Hoosier National Forest in Indiana was suspended.

The Forest Service's ploy caused financial hardships for mushroom pickers and other Oregonians who make their living foraging in the woods.

The Register-Guard's Diane Dietz reported Friday that Pleasant Hill resident Pat Mooney lost half his wreath and Christmas tree-cutting season during the shutdown. He estimates the permit ban cost him $15,000 and, in turn, hurt the eight commercial wreath makers he supplies with greenery.

While that no doubt disturbed many of the dedicated Forest Service employees around the country, it probably won't faze the big shots in Washington, D.C. They're probably too busy having another snit fit over the judge's latest directive.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Federal agency overreacts to judge's order
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 24, 2005
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