"The Forest Service's interest in harvesting timber has trampled the applicable environmental laws," wrote Judge Charles R. Breyer of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Judge Breyer also found that the "Monument Plan is decidedly incomprehensible" and "lacks coherent or clear guidance" on how the unique ecological resources of the Monument, including numerous sequoia groves and old forest dependent species, would be managed.
In addition to ruling that the Forest Service's overall management plan for the Monument is illegal, Judge Breyer invalidated several individual timber sales inside and adjacent to the Monument because of their potential impact on endangered wildlife.
"The court recognized that the Forest Service's business as usual approach to managing the Giant Sequoia National Monument was indefensible, especially given the magnificent resources at risk," said George Torgun, an attorney from Earthjustice who served as co-counsel in the case. "Protecting the Monument is essential so that future generations of Americans can experience this national treasure."
Bruce Hamilton of Sierra Club's Conservation Director stated: "Today's ruling only strengthens the case for transferring management of this magnificent Monument to neighboring Sequoia National Park, where it would be treated with the good stewardship it deserves."
Giant Sequoia National Monument boasts more than half of all the Sequoia redwoods in the world, with most of the remainder found in the adjacent National Park. The popularity and awe-inspiring beauty of the Sequoia forest and its wildlife led President Bill Clinton permanently protect the forest as a National Monument under the Antiquities Act. Earlier, President George Bush Sr. had proclaimed the Sequoia groves off limits to commercial logging.
In 2005, the Bush administration officially reversed those policies by finalizing plans to allow what amounts to commercial logging in the Monument, even inside the prized Giant Sequoia groves. The administration's plan would have allowed 7.5 million board feet of timber to be removed annually from the Monument, enough to fill 1,500 logging trucks each year. This policy would have included logging of healthy trees of any species as big as 30 inches in diameter or more. Trees that size can be as much as 300 years old.
As a model for better management, the Sierra Club and others strongly urged the Bush administration to look to nearby Sequoia National Park, where innovative conservation and fire prevention strategies have reinvigorated the Sequoia groves and made nearby communities safer. Unlike the Forest Service, which has proposed selling timber contracts to log healthy trees, the National Park Service effectively uses prescribed burning and thinning of smaller, more flammable trees and brush.
The complaint against the Forest Service was brought by the Sierra Club, Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, Earth Island Institute, Tule River Conservancy, Sequoia Forest Keeper, and Center for Biological Diversity, and in separate suit filed by the California Attorney General.
The Sierra Club, Earthjustice and John Muir Project were co-counsel in the case.
"The plan proposed by the Forest Service ignores the clear recommendations of its own fire scientists that fire risk reduction is not about logging large trees," stated Craig Thomas, Director of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign.
"The American people are looking to their government to protect these forests forever as a National Monument, not as a tree farm," stated Carla Cloer of the Tule River Conservancy. "Logging the Sequoia National Monument is just as unacceptable as selling the Statue of Liberty for scrap metal."