Environmental groups file suit over logging near BWCA
The lawsuit claims the U.S. Forest Service's plan to cut on about 12,000 acres, much of it within a corridor between two sections of wilderness, is a risk to wildlife and clean water.
By Tom Meersman, Star Tribune
Last update: July 03, 2007 – 9:11 PM
The Northstar Chapter of the Sierra Club and four other environmental and conservation groups have sued the U.S. Forest Service on a proposal to log 18 square miles near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court on Monday, claims that the agency is risking clean water, wildlife and the special qualities of wilderness and that the logging may affect recovery of the threatened lynx in Superior National Forest.
"We're really concerned primarily about the wilderness character, and the logging that'll be happening within close proximity to the wilderness is going to affect it in a negative way," said Lois Norrgard, forest campaign co-chairwoman for the Sierra Club.
The proposal, known as the Echo Trail project, would include clearcuts, partial cuts and thinning of trees on about 12,000 acres, much of it within a corridor between two large sections of wilderness. Some of the timber would be harvested to the wilderness boundary, according to the lawsuit, which argues that the noise of machinery would disrupt the solitude of campers and the habitat for wildlife.
Kris Reichenbach, spokeswoman for Superior National Forest, said the agency hasn't had time to review the lawsuit and has no comment about its claims. "We've worked hard with environmentalists to try to address their concerns," she said. "But in terms of the lawsuit itself, that's going to have to play out, and it's not something that we really can discuss."
Wayne Brandt, executive vice president of the Minnesota Timber Producers Association, said the suit is "misguided" and stands little chance of success because courts have rejected similar claims.
"The wilderness is a wilderness," Brandt said. "There's a line around it, and outside of that wilderness the law says that the forest is to be managed for multiple benefits." Brandt said nonwilderness areas of national forests should be available for all types of recreation including motorized uses, as well as timber harvesting and other economic purposes. "There's no law that provides for buffers around wilderness areas, nor should there be," he said.
Norrgard disagrees and said federal law requires agencies to preserve and protect wilderness character, even if that limits or prohibits some activities just outside its border. Norrgard said the Echo Trail project will allow 74 miles of temporary roads, including 11 of them within a half-mile of the Boundary Waters. Roads have been shown to disrupt habitat for species such as lynx, she said, and make it easier for off-road drivers to trespass in the wilderness.
The lawsuit requests that a judge prohibit timber sales in the project area until the U.S. Forest Service completes a new environmental study that takes a broader view of preserving the wilderness.
The other groups in the suit include Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and the Wilderness Society.