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Forest Service Given OK to Clear Trees

November 26, 1986

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a ruling Tuesday that had blocked the Forest Service program of cutting and burning trees in Texas’ Sam Houston National Forest.

″The forest service is now free to go back to work″ razing trees in its program to stop the spread of pine beetle infestation, forest service spokesman Hal Glassman said.

Last Thursday, 5th Circuit Court Judge Jerre S. Williams agreed to halt the controversial razing of 2,500 acres in the Four Notch Area after the Texas attorney general’s office argued the tree cutting would cause irreparable environmental damage.

The stay was to be in effect only until a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit could review the case.

Judges Henry Politz of Shreveport, La., Edith Jones of Houston and Williams issued a nine-page ruling Tuesday saying the forest service has been taking steps to protect endangered species in the area.

″There is no showing that the Forest Service’s motive is anything other than the rehabilitation of the area to an effective pine forest,″ the ruling said.

″It is hard to conclude that the stay would serve the public interest when the purpose of the reforestation is to improve the forest rather than replace it with buildings, industry, highways, or the like,″ it said.

Attorney General Jim Mattox said he was ″extremely disappointed with the ruling in light of the fact that huge numbers of trees are going to be destroyed, trees that could be used for hunting and other recreational purposes for all the people of Texas.″

Mattox filed a federal lawsuit Nov. 13 against the forest service, calling for a halt to the destruction of the pine beetle-infested forest near Huntsville and north of Houston.

Forest service officials have been clearing the area with a 52-ton tree crusher. The approach calls for knocking down the remaining trees, destroying them in controlled fires and planting new trees in their places.

Environmentalists have staged protests to block the program, saying it would endanger certain wildlife by destroying the habitat.