[GRRN] NY Times: Suit Demands Ban on Logging

Fri, 18 Dec 1998 00:27:22 EST

Thursday, December 17, 1998
<A HREF="aol://4344:104.nytcopy.6445375.574106743">Copyright 1998 The New York

Group's Suit Demands Ban on Logging in U.S. Forest


WASHINGTON -- A coalition of environmentalists plans to sue the Forest
Service on Thursday, demanding an end to logging in national forests on
grounds that the federal timber program causes more economic harm than good.

The environmental groups, led by Friends of the Earth and Forest Guardians,
assert that the Forest Service routinely ignores laws and regulations that
require it to calculate the economic costs of logging, such as damage to water
resources or tourism, and to weigh them against the benefits, such as the
value of the timber that is sold.

In one sense, the lawsuit upends the typical dispute between business groups
who say that environmental regulations cost more than they are worth, and
environmentalists who usually argue that the benefits of strict environmental
rules cannot be expressed in dollars. For years, the environmentalists have
been fighting attempts in Congress to require cost-benefit tests. Now they are
in court seeking exactly that.

The lawsuit has been joined by recreation, hunting and fishing
organizations, owners of small forest lots, tourism enterprises and others who
say they have been harmed economically by the logging program.

It is supported by some prominent natural resource economists who contend
that is is possible to measure the worth of forests that are not logged -- and
indeed that these values probably far exceed the worth of the timber they hold
and the jobs that are created by logging.

The suit is to be filed in federal district court for Vermont, in
Burlington, said Brian Dunkiel, a staff lawyer for Friends of the Earth. It
follows a year-long campaign in which the environmentalists filed
administrative appeals with the Forest Service challenging hundreds of
individual timber sales by the service, including in the Green Mountains
National Forest in Vermont, on similar grounds, only to be rebuffed

"The law requires the Forest Service to account for net economic and social
values," Dunkiel said. "It is almost as though the Congress had hired the
Forest Service to serve as the public's accountant, to manage these assets.
What has become clear is that the Forest Service has failed terribly."

James Lyons, the undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources, said
he had not seen the complaint and could not address its specifics.

"As an organization we are certainly moving in a direction that takes into
account all the resources," Lyons said. "We are seeking to improve, if not
maximize, net public benefits. Our analysis is not focused solely on timber

"It's not what we take out of the woods, it's what we leave behind that
really matters."

The coalition's lawsuit relies on a new but increasingly influential theory
among ecologists that it is possible to put a monetary price on the public
benefits that flow from healthy ecosystems, such as providing habitat for
commercial species, protecting drinking water reserves, providing recreation
and helping control global warming.

It comes at a time when the federal timber program, in which the Forest
Service auctions off its trees to commercial companies, is under challenge on
many fronts. The Clinton administration is considering sweeping new forest
policies aimed at protecting the last pristine stands of trees in roadless
areas, and anti-logging forces have proposed legislation in Congress that
would restrict logging and road construction in tens of millions of acres in
national forests.

But some conservationists have complained that the administration's approach
exempts major forests from protection, and the legislation has virtually no
chance of being enacted because pro-logging lawmakers control committees in
the House and Senate that have jurisdiction over forests.

Instead, the plaintiffs in the suit are seeking to force the Forest Service
to stop logging until it obeys what they say are the requirements of existing
laws and rules.

In documents prepared for the lawsuit, John Talberth, the executive director
of Forest Guardians, presents the results of a broad review he conducted of
the professional literature describing what he called generally accepted
standards for measuring the values of forests and the costs of logging them.

He also presents results of a survey of hundreds of timber sale documents
obtained from the Forest Service, which he said demonstrated that the agency
"has failed to incorporate significant information about the socio-economic
values of unlogged national forests into timber sale program decisions."