Thursday, August 26, 2004

Judge extends timber sales ban

Activists say logging would harm bat

By John Nolan
The Associated Press

Environmentalists say it's essential to delay the government's plans for logging, intentional burning and timber sales in parts of the Wayne National Forest where an endangered bat's habitat could be destroyed.

U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott on Tuesday sided at least initially with the environmentalists, extending indefinitely a ban she had imposed on the activities.

Leigh Haynie, a lawyer for the Buckeye Forest Council and Heartwood environmental organizations, said the ruling will give them time to argue that the U.S. Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to meet legal requirements for thorough studies to determine whether the actions could harm an endangered species.

The government says that delays could leave taxpayers with the bill to remove damaged trees. If the trees can be removed before they rot, a private contractor who could sell the timber as salvage would handle the job.

The Buckeye Forest Council and Heartwood would not object to the government allowing timber sales as long as federal laws are not violated, Haynie said.

She said the dispute involves about 1,600 acres in the Ironton district in southern and southeastern Ohio.

The environmentalists filed suit in April against the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, saying the agencies failed to fully evaluate and record their assessments of how proposed government actions might cause environmental harm.

The U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing Dlott's ruling and had no comment on it, spokesman Blain Rethmeier said.

The Indiana bat was discovered in the forest in 1997. The Forest Service has been monitoring the species and found it was still there last year, Haynie said.

The population of the 3-inch-tall bat has been declining since the 1960s and is now fewer than 400,000, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

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