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Environmental group sues US Forest Service for logging projects in White Mountain National Forest

White Mountain National Forest sign in Easton, NH. Dan Tuohy photo / NHPR. NHPR.org
Dan Tuohy
White Mountain National Forest sign in Easton, NH. Dan Tuohy photo / NHPR. NHPR.org

Standing Trees, a Vermont-based forest advocacy group, is suing the US Forest Service over the agency’s authorization of commercial logging projects in the White Mountain National Forest.

The federal lawsuit, filed Thursday by the Vermont Law and Graduate School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic on behalf of Standing Trees, alleges the Forest Service violated federal law by failing to adequately investigate the projects’ potential environmental impacts and explore less harmful alternatives.

The two projects, the Tarleton Integrated Resource Project and the Peabody West Integrated Resource Project, will open up 3,000 acres of the national forest to commercial logging and construct more than 11 miles of permanent roads through some of the most iconic landscapes of the White Mountains in Piermont and Gorham.

“These two projects impact areas that mean so much to New Englanders,” said Zack Porter, the executive director of Standing Trees. The projects would affect landscapes like Lake Tarleton, the northern Presidential Range and the Appalachian Trail.

“Despite Standing Trees in both projects having offered alternatives for the Forest Service to consider that would result in less logging and greater environmental protection in the project areas, the Forest Service simply did not analyze those alternatives,” said Christophe Courchesne, director of the environmental advocacy clinic at Vermont Law and Graduate School . “That is a very cut and dry violation of federal law.”

The Forest Service said they couldn't comment because the case is in litigation.

The advocates said the projects could harm water quality, carbon storage, biodiversity, certain endangered species, and flood resiliency in the region. They also said the projects would threaten mature and old growth forests, despite urging from the Biden administration and scientists to better protect these trees.

They said logging in New England’s national forests has increased in recent years, likely due to the Forest Service’s increased timber targets. Courchesne said there has been an absence of litigation about this issue in New England but that there have been successful similar lawsuits in different parts of the country.

Both Porter and Courchesne emphasized that the Forest Service should better engage with local stakeholders.

“[The Forest Service needs] to follow these bedrock requirements of federal law that ensure the public has a voice in these projects,” Courchesne said.