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METRO NEWS FRIDAY  December 8, 2000

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U.S. agency halts plans for logging in Ga. forest
Charles Seabrook - Staff
Friday, December 8, 2000

The U.S. Forest Service has abandoned plans for 16 of 24 new logging projects in Georgia's Chattahoochee National Forest in response to a lawsuit by environmental groups who contend that timber cutting harms wildlife and pollutes mountain streams.

The decision, in effect, halts most of the logging in the 750,000-acre forest indefinitely, perhaps permanently. The aim of the environmental groups is to stop all timber cutting in the forest.

While the Forest Service offered no details on its decision, the environmental groups viewed it as a concession by the agency that regulators allowed the logging without adequately considering possible harm to wildlife and the degradation of the forest's environment.

Most of the logging projects in question hadn't begun, and several had been suspended after a different lawsuit was filed more than a year ago.

In addition to the suspensions in the Chattahoochee forest, timber cutting projects in three of six tracts in the Oconee National Forest in Middle Georgia also will be halted. Also, more than 20 other logging activities will be stopped in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee; the Bienville, Homochitto and DeSoto national forests in Mississippi; and the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas.

"This is a big victory for forests across the South but there remains a good bit to do," said Eric Huber, a lawyer with the New Orleans-based Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.

Gary Pierson, director of planning for the Forest Service's Southern region, said that since there is no decision anymore for the logging projects, "no work can go forward until new decisions can be made." That process could take years.

The agency's decision to halt the projects came in response to a lawsuit filed by Huber on behalf of the Sierra Club and seven other groups last July in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.

"The Forest Service is supposed to be in the business of conserving our national treasures, not selling them off to the top bidders," said Rene Voss, a Sierra Club director.

Huber said that logging, especially the practice of clear cutting, "wipes out entire habitats for endangered animals. Road building and other logging activities further fragment wildlife habitat, cause soil erosion and other degradation and can destroy entire rare bird nesting grounds."

He said the Forest Service's decision does not end the lawsuit, which asks for the agency also to stop more than 20 other logging projects in nearly three dozen national forests in 13 states.

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