Residents and Conservation Groups Sue to Stop Colorado Timber Sale
Pagosa Springs homeowners and conservation groups sued the Forest Service today over a controversial logging operation that would increase the threat of wildfire to nearby residents as well as harm important wildlife habitat. They asked a federal judge to stop the sale until the Forest Service does a required population survey of nine key species in the forest. The Dutton timber sale area is eight miles north of Pagosa Springs, Colorado in the San Juan National Forest. Logging would occur in an area surrounding the 480 acres of private land including the Lost Valley of the San Juans community.
"I didn't buy property in the national forests to be surrounded by stumps and flammable logging debris," said Clive Kincaid, who owns a house on 35 acres in the Lost Valley of the San Juans. "The forests around here are going to burn big and hot because the government is selling fire resistant big trees to timber corporations while leaving behind tons of branches and brush that will fuel a holocaust if wildfire comes through during this drought. Its just crazy."
The timber sale is in the district of Rep. Scott McInnis (R-CO). McInnis is the sponsor of the so-called Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HR 1904), which has passed the House of Representatives and is currently pending in the Senate. This proposal would gag local residents who object to timber sales, give the Forest Service a blank check to conduct large-scale, environmentally damaging logging projects by claiming the forests are at risk of insect infestation, and fail to do the real work of thinning overgrown brush near at-risk communities.
John Horning, Executive Director of Forest Guardians, said, "Unfortunately it comes as no surprise that Congressman McInnis is pushing a timber sale under the guise of helping local residents when in fact the only ones helped are his friends in the timber industry."
Rather than reduce fire risk by removing dense stands of trees growing near homes, the Dutton timber sale would dramatically increase fire risk by leaving tons of flammable logging debris behind near private homes. The timber sale would cut fire-resistant old growth ponderosa pine and Rocky Mountain Douglas fir, the most commercially valuable trees in the forest. None of the project's funds have been allocated for area landowners to reduce fire risk near their homes.
The National Forest Management Act requires the Forest Service to survey populations of indicator species and take action if they are declining. Indicator species are species that serve as surrogates for a broad range of other species that have similar habitat needs. Population data were not collected for seven of the nine indicator species selected for this project.
Neil Levine, Earthjustice attorney, said, "The law requires the Forest Service to make sure their logging doesn't put more species at risk. They've failed to live up to their responsibilities to protect the forests and wildlife."
The Forest Service decided in November 2002 to clearcut and selectively log 3.7 million board feet of timber (740 logging-truck loads) from the area. Nearly seven miles of roads would be constructed and an additional seven miles of fire line bulldozed through the forest. Important habitat for the federally protected Canada lynx and sensitive populations of milk snake, tiger salamander, wolverine, and three-toed woodpecker are found in the sale area.
The Forest Service admits taxpayers would lose about $20,000 on this timber sale because it would cost the government more money to administer than it would recover from the logging company for the logs. This figure does not include the cost of lowered property values, increased soil erosion, and flooding and lost revenues in the area from hunting, fishing, and recreation.
"Taxpayers are losing money to bankroll logging that undercuts my livelihood," said Paul Carpino, a local real estate agent "It's the scenic mountain beauty and wildlife that brings people to this unique area and sustains my business. It's simply irresponsible for the government to waste taxpayers' money and harm my business at the same time."
Neil Levine of Earthjustice in Denver is representing the conservation groups and the local residents in this lawsuit.