Logging roads case needs an airtight solution


The U.S. Supreme Court is not expected to rule on the federal logging roads case until next summer, but the issue is still moving along. The Missoulian newspaper in Missoula, Mont., provides a nice update on the logging roads question this week. (We last wrote about the issue here.)

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case on Monday, Dec. 3, so that will be a key day for advocates of working forests to show how the Ninth Circuit decision on logging roads would lead to a rash of lawsuits and decimate the ability of forest landowners to harvest their land.

As the Missoulian points out, the Ninth Circuit decision is also being fought by Congress and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Congress is considering a bill, House Resolution 2541 (co-sponsored by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas), that would overturn the Ninth Circuit decision.

The EPA last week released a draft rule that would essentially nullify the Ninth Circuit decision, but timber leaders say the agency should wait to take action until the Supreme Court and Congress weigh in.

American Forest Resource Council vice president Ann Forest Burns advised all parties to slow down. AFRC represents timber mill owners in Montana and four Western states and opposes the regulation of logging roads.

“There’s no rush on this,” Forest Burns said. “There’s a moratorium on the (EPA) action through the end of March. So they should wait and see what the justices have to say.

“The real solution to this is for Congress to amend the Clean Water Act, and place a statute exemption for non-point sources,” she added. “We’ve already made so much progress moving toward best management practices and controlling runoff.”

The stakes are incredibly high. While the issue is far from resolved, the Ninth Circuit’s argument for logging roads as “point sources” of pollution is already being used.

(The court’s) argument is already showing up in appeals of logging sales in Idaho, according to (Gordy Sanders, resource manager for Pyramid Mountain Lumber).

“That’s why 26 or 28 states have weighed in with amicus briefs to the Supreme Court,” Sanders said. “Any road construction, road obliteration, culvert installation or removal would require a specific permit from EPA or DEQ to allow you to do that. It’s a huge, encumbering process that would unfold over time. There’s no simple way to do this.”