U.S. timber industry fears judge's order to block timber harvests in Montana's Custer National Forest over water permits for logging could encourage more water challenges by environmentalists

LOS ANGELES , April 4, 2012 () – The American Forest Resource Council is concerned that a federal judge's order to block logging in Montana's Custer National Forest over water permits for logging roads may lead other environmental groups to file similar legal challenges, the Capital Press reported April 4.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy rules the Forest Service failed to properly disclose that Clean Water Act permits may be needed for logging roads in the area. Clean Water Act permits are not currently required for such roads but soon may be, depending on a related case moving through the Supreme Court.

Molloy ordered a halt to the logging project until the Forest Service conducts additional analysis of the project's environmental effects, the Capital Press reported.

In 2011, the Forest Service authorized the harvest of about 1,500 acres of timberland and 35 miles of new road construction in the Custer National Forest.

Native Ecosystems Council and Alliance for the Wild Rockies alleged that the Custer project violated laws on forest management and environmental protection. Molloy agreed with some of the claims.

Scott Horngren, attorney for the timber industry group, said “copycat” environmental groups will file similar new lawsuits to block other logging projects on national forest land.

Molloy's ruling means every logging project will need to analyze the application of the Clean Water Act to its permit, said Horngren. Without that analysis, no project can comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, although the water permit issue is not a requirement now and may never be, he added.

Runoff from logging roads falls under the Clean Water Act if it is channeled through ditches and culverts into streams, according to a 2010 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing the ruling and Congress postponed the order's date of effectiveness until the end of September.

The primary source of this article is the Capital Press, Salem, Oregon, April 4, 2012.

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