Loggers to sue Forest Service, enviromentalists

snowangel at my-deja.com snowangel at my-deja.com
Mon Sep 27 16:59:59 EST 1999


Loggers to sue Forest Service, enviromentalists
 Marshall Helmberger- Ely Timberjay

 An unprecedented lawsuit slated to be filed next week by the
Tower-based Associated Contract Loggers (ACL) accuses the Forest Service
and two environmental groups of illegally establishing religion by
attempting to limit timber sales and it is seeking nearly $600,000 in
damages.

 The suit, prepared by Twin Cities attorney Stephen Young, is
tentatively set to be filed October 1 in federal district court in
Minneapolis. It alleges that the St. Paul-based group Superior
Wilderness Action Network (SWAN) and the New Mexico-based Forest
Guardians have sought to impose their religious philosophy of "deep
ecology" on the Forest Service through appeals and other litigation
intended to stop timber cutting on the Superior and Chippewa national
forests. As a result, according to Young's brief, the Forest Service has
failed to offer enough timber to meet their allowable sale quantity or
the financial needs of the independent loggers who are members of ACL.

 "We felt we needed to do something about it," said Larry Jones, ACL's
executive director. "The Forest Service shouldn't be allowing itself to
be swayed by these groups."

 And members of ACL are putting their money where their mouth is. Jones
said the group's 18-member board of directors has pledged to personally
contribute $1,000 each towards the suit and a recent mailing to members
brought in an additional $6,000.

 Co-plaintiff in the case is Orr-based logger Greg Olson, whose
experience in the Little East Creek case forms part of the complaint.
The Forest Service delayed granting a special use road permit to Olson
last winter to harvest timber he had purchased from the DNR in the
Little East Creek area. In part due to the delay, the suit alleges that
spring break-up came before Olson could get all his harvested timber out
of the remote area. In addition, severe wind damage in July blew down
much of the remaining timber Olson had purchased, further adding to his
losses, which the suit estimates at nearly $42,000.

 The delays in processing special use road permits is new, according to
the suit, and is the direct result of pressure from groups such as SWAN
and Forest Guardians.

 The suit alleges that both environmental organizations are seeking to
impose the religious doctrine of "deep ecology" on the Forest Service, a
philosophy the suit claims is akin to Native American religions, which
place nature at the center of creation. "It is a religion similar in
many beliefs to the neo-pagan religions of Druid practices, Wicca and
Gaia worship," states Young's brief. Young notes also that a number of
Christian organizations have become involved in the timber issue,
seeking to limit timber harvesting on national forests.

 Attorney Young acknowledges the suit is an unusual take on existing
law.

 "It's very novel. We're making a new kind of soup out of old
ingredients," he said.

 But Young believes recent court cases, including one in New York state
that prohibited an Earth Day celebration based on religious grounds,
gives credence to his claims about the deep ecology movement.
"Government can not favor one religion over another and Earth worship is
a religion," said Young.

 If his legal theory is a bit unorthodox, Young's credentials appear
anything but. While currently in
 private practice, Young is a former law professor and dean of the
Hamline Law School and is a
 graduate and former assistant dean at the Harvard Law School. During
his tenure at Harvard, he
 began publishing the Journal of Law and Religion.

 "This is an area of law I have studied for years," he said.

 According to Young, the environmental movement in the U.S. has veered
sharply away from its science-based roots during the past two decades
and has become much more spiritual and faith-based in its orientation.
He said the lawsuit is an attempt to get the government's
decision-making process back on scientific grounds, rather than on
environmental dogma.

 An attorney for SWAN called the case "totally lacking in merit" saying
it barely justified comment.

 "I'm not aware of any legal authority that would support an action
against a non-sectarian, non-profit group that seeks to impinge on their
First Amendment rights," said attorney Ernest Grumbles, with the
Oppenheimer Law Firm, in Minneapolis. "It's simply a publicity stunt,
one I consider an abuse of the court system."

 Attorney Young describes the case as "very serious" and said he is
prepared to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

 ACL's Jones thinks the lawsuit will have wide support among multiple
use advocates. "What it takes is a group like ACL to start out with
something like this. We think other groups will join in as well. He said
the groups Conservationists With Common Sense, the Minnesota Deer
Hunters Association and the Minnesota Forestry Association have already
given their formal support to the cause and he expects to hear from many
more once word of the lawsuit gets out.

 To that end, the ACL is set to hold a press conference this Thursday in
Duluth and was set to meet with the editorial boards of the Minneapolis
Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Thursday to talk about
the action.

 Forest Service spokesperson Barb Soderberg said she was unfamiliar with
the lawsuit and had no comment.


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