No Wrong Doing in Sequoia Tree
Posted on Wed, Aug. 20, 2008
Investigators find no wrongdoing in
Giant Sequoia tree cutting
By MICHAEL DOYLE
WASHINGTON - Federal investigators
have concluded the Forest Service acted properly in felling
hazardous trees in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, bringing
to a quiet end a probe loudly sought by congressional Democrats.
Capping a politically sensitive, nine-month investigation, the
Agriculture Department's Office of Inspector General dismissed
complaints about logging that took place near the monument's
Trail of 100 Giants. Environmentalists and their Capitol Hill
allies had suggested the tree removals violated multiple federal
"Our review did not substantiate the six allegations presented
and related concerns," the investigators stated, adding that the
Forest Service acted "to improve public safety."
The investigators twice traveled to the 327,769-acre Giant
Sequoia National Monument, a center of controversy and
litigation ever since President Clinton established it in 2000.
They found that none of the felled trees were beloved giant
sequoias. They also determined the Forest Service followed
public notice and environmental review requirements.
"The Forest Service generally complied with all applicable laws,
regulations, policies and agreements that were in effect," the
Some of the Forest Service rules themselves, though, remain a
work in progress and subject to some future revision.
The new report was requested by three House members who serve on
the powerful subcommittee that funds the Agriculture Department.
The House members, in turn, were responding to complaints
initially raised by advocates with Save America's Forests and
The environmentalists contended the Forest Service unnecessarily
cut more than 200 protected trees in 2004, thereby benefiting a
local sawmill. The specific complaint echoed more general
attacks on the Bush administration's environmental policies.
"If the Bush administration did authorize the chopping down of
protected ancient trees in a national forest, then one has to
wonder how much longer it will be until the White House starts
auctioning off marble slabs from the Lincoln Memorial," Rep.
Maurice Hinchey. D-N.Y., declared in a news release last
The seven-page Office of Inspector General report was submitted
to Hinchey and other House members Aug. 7 but made public
without fanfare on the inspector general's Web site this week.
Spokesmen for Hinchey and Rep. Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat
who also requested the investigation, could not be reached to
The Forest Service actions in question began in 2004, when the
agency targeted some 130 dead or dying trees for removal. A
Forest Service specialist subsequently concluded an additional
74 trees should be removed because they, too, were potentially
The Forest Service determined, and investigators agreed, that
the tree removals in the national monument could proceed without
a formal environmental review in order to protect public safety.
Investigators further determined that some current Forest
Service rules - for instance, requiring complete descriptions of
trees slated for removal - weren't in place at the time of the
Giant Sequoia logging. That meant the 2004 logging didn't
violate the rules in place at the time.
The investigators did note the former Forest Service chief
testified inaccurately when he told Congress an environmental
study was completed prior to the logging. The investigators did
not criticize this inaccuracy, having concluded the agency's
overall actions were proper.
"We are pleased with the results," Forest Service spokesman John
Heil said Wednesday. "It shows we are doing the right thing."
The completed audit, though, does not resolve all of the
questions concerning Giant Sequoia National Monument management.
Pressed by one lawsuit, the Forest Service is now preparing a
new management plan for the monument.
In October, moreover, the Supreme Court will weigh in on a case
shaping future related logging decisions. The Earth Island
Institute, Sequoia Forestkeeper and other environmental groups
successfully challenged a 238-acre salvage logging project
proposed for the neighboring Sequoia National Forest, which the
Forest Service contended was exempt from standard environmental
review. The high court's eventual decision could affect when
logging decisions can be challenged.
© 2008 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.
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