A federal appeals court refused to block timber cutting on land in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests burned in the Rodeo-Chediski wildfire last year.
A two-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Monday refused to grant an emergency stay, which would have barred a salvage timber harvest planned by the U.S. Forest Service.
The practical effect of the order is that cutting can begin on timber sales that have been held up pending a decision by the appeals court on whether to issue a stay, said Jim Hibbetts, team leader of the Forest Service’s Rodeo-Chediski salvage and rehabilitation team.
The trees that will be cut were killed in the Rodeo-Chediski fire that swept through eastern Arizona in 2002, destroying 469,000 acres in the national forest and on the adjacent Fort Apache Indian Reservation.
After the fire, the Forest Service proposed a series of timber sales under a provision in federal law known as "categorical exclusions."
Those exclusions allow certain types of timber projects to bypass the normal environmental documentation and public hearing process.
The use of the categorical exclusions was challenged by the Forest Conservation Council, a New Mexico environmental group. Last July, Judge Frederick Martone of U.S. District Court in Phoenix ruled the Forest Service could legitimately use exclusions on about 18,000 acres targeted for salvage cutting.
But, Martone also found the agency’s attempt to use the exclusion on an additional 19,364 acres adjacent to private land was inappropriate. Martone allowed the Forest Service to proceed with timber cutting as long as it simultaneously conducted an environmental assessment, which is due in January.
The Forest Conservation Council appealed and sought an emergency stay to block the harvest.
Officials for the group could not be reached Tuesday for comment.