CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – A federal judge has rejected an environmental group challenge to two logging projects in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, saying the Forest Service did not violate federal law in approving the work.

The Sierra Club, Wilderness Society and Forest Watch argued the plan was not reviewed adequately and that the logging and road building needed for it would ruin a unique forest environment.

U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe noted he was not asked to rule on the advisability of the projects to cut timber on about 1,300 acres, but instead, on whether the Forest Service followed the law in approving the work. He found the review was proper and legal.

The environmental groups argued the Forest Service violated several federal laws as it reviewed two timber cutting options, the Than Forest Resource Management Project and the Batchelder Brook Vegetation Management Project.

Several other groups and the state sided with the Forest Service. They included The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, Appalachian Mountain Club, New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, North Country Council and the Audubon Society of New Hampshire.

“The court is not called upon to consider either the wisdom or the propriety of the forest resource management projects at issue in this case,” McAuliffe wrote. “Rather, the narrow legal question presented is whether (the Forest Service) followed the correct procedures and applied the correct statutory and regulatory standards in approving those projects. For the reasons discussed below, the court concludes that they did.”

At the Sierra Club office in Concord, spokeswoman Catherine Corkery said the group was disappointed.

“We are going to evaluate from this point and try to figure what we want to do from here out,” she said.

As part of a forest management plan, the Forest Service determined that timber should be cut to offer a wider array of wildlife habitat. It approved cutting timber on about 929 acres for the Than Project and about 380 acres in the Batchelder Brook Project. The forest encompasses about 800,000 acres.

Some of the revenue from timber sales goes to local communities covered by the forest.

The groups challenging the approval maintained the Forest Service applied the wrong federal regulations in evaluating and approving the projects, did not adequately consider potential harmful environmental consequences, did not analyze soil from 13 areas in the Than Project and from 21 areas in the Batchelder Brook Project, did not prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for either project and did not provide for appropriate public comment.

Sen. Judd Gregg called the ruling a big win for the future of the forest and the state. He said the Management Plan including the timber projects was a “carefully crafted compromise” which considered input from lawmakers, environmentalists, timber companies, recreation organizations and others “who understand the needs of our State and care about this great natural resource.

“It’s unfortunate that important timber projects included in the management plan have been tied up in court, and hopefully this decision will finally allow them to be implemented in a timely manner,” he said.

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