"When we brought this suit on behalf of Sierra Club and the others, we were confident that sound science would prevail," said Eric Huber, attorney for Earthjustice. "We are quite pleased that these sensitive areas of our national forests - and the animals that live in them - are now going to be off-limits to clear cutting and destructive logging."
Filed in Federal court, the July suit claimed that the logging practices, if allowed to continue despite prior court rulings preventing them, would cause severe harm to numerous forest species. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, GA, had already concluded that the Forest Service did not maintain adequate data about rare wildlife species that live in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia, and this suit expanded that ruling to the 13-state southern region.
"Clear cutting wipes out entire habitats for endangered animals. Road building and other logging activities further fragment habitat, cause soil erosion and other habitat degradation and can destroy entire rare bird nesting grounds and endangered fish habitat," said Huber.
"The Forest Service is supposed to be in the business of conserving our national treasures, not selling them off to the top bidders," said Rene Voss, a Sierra Club director.
This week's action will halt logging in 21 areas on Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forests in Georgia; 10 areas on the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee; Five areas on the Bienville, Homochitto and DeSoto National Forests in Mississippi; and seven areas on the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas.
"The bottom line here is that critters such as wood warblers and various darters and other fish will now have a fighting chance to recover, without a constant attack on their habitats," said Huber. "And perhaps, even more important, it could be that the Forest Service is starting to take notice that it cannot unilaterally opt to destroy precious habitat. Hopefully, the Service will now follow through and withdraw the other 22 timber sales they are still trying to defend in this suit."
Joining Sierra Club as plaintiffs in the suit were the John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute, Wild South, Wild Alabama, Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project, Friends of Georgia, Rabun County Coalition to Save the Forests and Cherokee Forest Voices, Forest Conservation Council and Ouachita Watch League. Wildlaw and Southern Environmental Law Center joined Earthjustice in working on this case.