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Judge Halts Restoration Work on the Lolo National Forest

by Chris Sorensen |

According to the Missoulian Federal Judge Don Molloy has halted logging of burned areas and restoration work in areas of the Lolo National Forest burned in 2000.

In his opinion Molloy wrote:

"The U.S. Forest Service cannot claim that water quality in five streams eventually will be improved by the project because it does not know enough about those streams or their ability to cope with sediment."

After environmentalists sued to stop the project, the Forest Service argued that while the work would initially increase the amount of sediment in the streams, the long-term effect would be less erosion and clearer-running streams.

According to Molly's opinon," This may or may not be true." "Before the Forest Service decides to do anything that will increase sedimentation, even if the proposed action should ultimately decrease long-term sedimentation, the Forest Service must know how much the stream can carry away.
"Without a baseline, there is no way but speculation to determine how the sediment impacts water quality, adversely or beneficially." "By deciding to carry out this project in watersheds with already compromised streams, without knowing the exact condition and capacity to cope of those streams, the approval of the Lolo post-burn project is arbitrary and capricious," he wrote. "Consequently, sales impacting these stream segments cannot proceed until TMDLs are established." "In short, the law was not followed."

Neither the state of Montana nor the Forest Service have yet calculated the "total maximum daily load" - or TMDL - of sediment that the affected streams can withstand. And the state has said it won't get to the work until 2006.

Late this week Molloy issued an order allowing loggers to remove trees that are already down and for planting to go ahead on 1000 acres less the seedlings go to waste.

The Forest Service and various Environmental groups are in Judge Molloys Courtroom on a weekly basis.