As USFS suspends many activity permits, enviros say it’s playing games

The U.S. Forest Service has suspended permits for 1,436 activities in national forests nationwide, from cutting the U.S. Capitol’s Christmas tree to guiding hunting and fishing trips. It claims it’s just complying with a court order, but eco-advocates say the agency is intentionally stirring up controversy to aid efforts by congressional conservatives to gut federal environmental laws. In the July 2 ruling, a federal judge found that the USFS was improperly approving projects without public comment or appeals. Singleton specified that the ruling affected major land-management decisions, not minor projects, but the service has since delayed many small permits affecting local business owners — and is now seeking a stay of the ruling. “It’s clear to me that the Bush administration is trying to manufacture a political crisis overextending implementation of this ruling,” says Sean Cosgrove of the Sierra Club, a plaintiff in the suit, in order to “make legislative attempts to basically change the National Environmental Policy Act or other conservation laws.”