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The 9th Circuit has blocked the government's plan to log parts of the Sierra Nevada forest, rejecting the U.S. Forest Service's argument that it needs to cut and sell large trees in order to raise money for forest-fire prevention.

Sierra Forest Legacy and the state of California appealed the denial of an injunction against the Forest Service to ban the cutting of larger trees, in which several wildlife species thrive. Environmentalists claimed that the agency's plan to sell off trees to cover the costs of fire prevention failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Forest Service shirked its duty to "rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives" to logging in the Basin, Empire and Slapjack sites of the Sierra Nevada forests, plaintiffs claimed.

"In one sale, a fire hazard can be removed and the USFS paid so that it can remove the fuel of future fires," Judge Noonan wrote, acknowledging the seeming practicality of the plan. "Two for one always has an attractive ring. But are there no alternative ways of getting money to do the clearing that is imperative? Obviously, there may be."

Noonan suggested that the mere existence of a lumber-for-funds plan indicates that Congress needs to step in and provide more funding for forest fire prevention. Plaintiffs suggested other alternatives, including reprioritizing other funding and altering the Forest Service's fuel treatment program.

So long as the alternatives remain unexamined, the agency's plan violates federal law, Noonan wrote.

The court stressed that it was not deciding the merits of the case, but ruling that the government's choice of funding for fire reduction does not outweigh the state's preservation interests.
 


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