An appeals court in
Portland has decided not to renew a temporary
stop-work order affecting a controversial timber
sale in the Bitterroot National Forest.
The 9th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals on Thursday refused to renew an
emergency, 60-day injunction against the Middle
East Fork project. The injunction lapsed at the
end of October, and two groups sought to
The decision on the Middle East Fork Fuel
Reduction Project near Sula allows the project
to go forward - at least until the next court
date in mid-November.
“The bottom line for us is that we are pleased
that the project can get going,” said Ravalli
County Attorney George Corn. “It's a community
safety project. There is only one way in and one
way out of the East Fork,” and harvesting timber
in the area will improve safety for residents,
The most recent court ruling is more than
disappointing for opponents of the project: It
means important habit will be affected, said
Matthew Koehler, executive director of the
WildWest Institute of Missoula, which paired up
with Friends of the Bitterroot to request the
“Clearly, now they can start logging century-old
trees deep in the forest, under the guise of
fuel reduction,” he said. “The injunction would
have held everything at bay” until appearances
in court in less than two weeks.
A panel from the same 9th Circuit Court will
consider the merits of the original injunction
on Nov. 15.
Then, in December, the lawsuit goes before U.S.
District Judge Donald Molloy, who will hear the
merits of a broader question, whether the
original project and bid awards were handled
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided against
renewing the emergency injunction “summarily,”
after reading only the material from the
opposition, Corn said. It is an important legal
point that suggests “weakness in their
material,” he said.
But if future courts rule the project illegal,
or that the Forest Service broke laws in
awarding the logging contract, “this will be
irreversible,” Koehler said. Some old-growth
timber may be harvested by then, he said.
The WildWest Institute and Friends of the
Bitterroot sued the Forest Service months ago to
stop the commercial portion of the Middle East
They claim the Forest Service violated federal
law by committing resources to the project
before a decision was made, censoring contrary
science, selectively excluding the public and
not taking a hard look at soils.
The sooner dead trees are harvested, the better
for residents, for elk, and for Rocky Mountain
Log Homes, said Bitterroot National Forest
Supervisor Dave Bull.
Rocky Mountain Log Homes won the contract to
harvest the timber, subcontracting with the
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to improve elk
habitat, Bull said Friday.
The longer the trees stay in place, the less
value they'll have for the company, which wants
to get started on the work right away to make
progress before next fire season, he said.
“The community there is at risk,” Bull said.
“That's why it is such an important project. We
do have two more hurdles to clear, but we are
“We think that the court ruling is a very good
thing,” said Corn, who represents a group of
residents, governments and fire departments that
intervened in the court case, supporting the
Koehler countered that even dead trees have
environmental value, and that many of the
old-growth trees with commercial value are miles
from homes, posing no danger to residents.
WildWest and Friends of the Bitterroot support
decreasing the wildfire danger around homes and
cleaning up fire risks, but “not selling very
large, century-old trees in important habitat”
that are not a threat, he said.
“The merits of this case have never been heard,”
he said. “It is irresponsible to move ahead” two
weeks before a court hearing on the matter, he