Black cherry tree farming in Allegheny forest appealed

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, May 21, 2004 (ENS): Conservationists are appealing a federal district court decision to allow the largest timber sale in the eastern United States to go ahead. The appeal claims the the logging of 8,100 acres of native hardwoods in the Allegheny National Forest is planned to clear the area for plantations of black cherry trees.

The Allegheny Defense Project joined with Heartwood, the National Forest Protection Alliance, the Sierra Club, the Pennsylvania Environmental Network, Communities for Sustainable Forestry and several individuals in appealing to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

The appeal claims that the U.S. Forest Service has violated a provision in the National Forest Management Act prohibiting the management of timber on national forests primarily for financial incentives.

The conservation groups are challenging the Forest Service’s decision to approve widespread clearcutting and herbicide use as part of the East Side Timber Sale. They say wildlife habitat will be fragmented by the logging and road development.

The groups claim that in pushing conversion of native northern hardwood forests, the U.S. Forest Service has ignored forest health risks created by black cherry monocultures.

“The Bush administration is turning its back on ‘Healthy Forests’ by promoting the conversion of native northern hardwood forests to a mono-crop of black cherry trees,” said Phil Coleman, chair for the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“The East Side Timber Sale serves the timber industry and their export mills but it does not serve wildlife or the public. The use of clearcuts and herbicides to promote a mono-crop of black cherry trees violates the concept of multiple use.”

Preferential management for black cherry creates "an unprecedented forest health problem,” said Ryan Talbott, forest watch coordinator with the Allegheny Defense Project. “Forest Service scientists have documented that stands dominated by black cherry are more susceptible to defoliating insects, windthrow, and plant biodiversity problems and less valuable as wildlife habitat.”

"Large scale monocultures of black cherry trees are unnatural, and cannot be maintained without heavy doses of pesticides and chemical fertilizers,” said Jim Bensman of Heartwood. "Why should U.S. taxpayers subsidize the timber industry through the destruction of a public resource initially intended to protect water quality?”

President of the Pennsylvania Environmental Network Bill Belitskus said, “The long term economic health of northwestern Pennsylvania is not served by converting one of its greatest environmental and tourist assets into a monoculture of black cherry.”

The groups' appeal seeks to overturn a decision issued by District Court Judge William Standish III on March 23, 2004, in Pittsburgh, which followed three years of briefings and arguments which at various points resulted in victories for both sides.

In the original recommendation in September 2002, Magistrate Judge Ila Sensenich found that, “Plaintiffs have produced an abundance of evidence that Defendants chose the even-aged management system over other harvest alternatives because it best fostered the growth of black cherry, the most lucrative tree…”.

That decision was later withdrawn without explanation and a new Recommendation was issued by Magistrate Judge Sensenich on December 23, 2003, which found for the Defendant Forest Service despite finding the adoption of management for black cherry “troubling.”

The appeal comes one week before conservationists begin their summer campaign to limit logging in national forests. To launch the “Defending Forests, Defending Freedoms National Summer Kickoff” members of the Allegheny Defense Project will lead a media tour of Allegheny forest areas at risk on May 26.

The conservationists are concerned that Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman used Earth Day "to promote greater access for the timber industry" in the Allegheny, Pennsylvania’s only national forest.

Veneman spoke to an audience at the Timberline Salvage Project in Kane, Pennsylvania on April 22, hosted by Kane Hardwood Company. She said, "Kane has undertaken progressive efforts to sustainably manage its land while also working with us on management activities to make the forests and communities in Western Pennsylvania healthy. This produces jobs and it helps grow the local economy, and it does so in harmony with some important environmental values."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights Reserved.

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