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Bonner County to weigh in on timber sale litigation

by KEITH KINNAIRD
Hagadone News Network | December 28, 2010 8:00 PM

SANDPOINT - The Bonner County commission is throwing its support behind the U.S. Forest Service's appeal of a federal court ruling which is hindering logging in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.

The commission has agreed to draft an amicus curiae brief in support of the Forest Service's appeal. Amicus curiae is Latin for friend of the court and provides an opportunity for somebody not party to the litigation to provide the court with information.

In a case involving the Mission Brush Project on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest in Boundary County, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Forest Service complies with the Idaho Forest Plan's old-growth standard because there is more than the required 10 percent old growth on the forest. The court also found that the agency can meet its wildlife viability requirements by measuring acres of habitat rather than inventorying numbers of birds and that the courts should not second-guess the Forest Service's natural resource decisions.

Environmentalists have been trying to limit the Mission Brush decision since it was issued in 2008, according to backers of the Forest Service appeal.

Parties in the Mission Brush case include the Forest Service, Boundary County, the cities of Bonners Ferry and Moyie Springs and the two logging companies that purchased the timber sales.

In a recent case challenging the Bussel timber sale, also located in the IPNF, the Lands Council was successful in persuading U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge that the Forest Service must conduct multiple years of surveys in the project area to establish a level or increasing trend of the species population before trees can be cut.

Appeal proponents argue that Lodge's ruling is contrary to the Mission Brush decision because it concludes that the Forest Service cannot rely on the species' preferred habitat as a basis for the wildlife viability analysis when a particular species is not found in the project area even though the same species may be found throughout the forest. The 2,100-acre Bussel project area, for instance, is less than one-one hundredth of a percent of the 2.5-million acre IPNF.

The appellants hold that such an interpretation of how the Forest Service must assess wildlife viability will make it impossible for the agency to ever complete the work to prepare a timber sale.

"In principle, I do support what they're doing," said Bonner County commission Chairman Joe Young.

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