GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Twenty-two women were arrested Monday trying to block loggers from cutting down dead trees burned in a 2002 fire, and the U.S. Forest Service (search) closed the area to the public to prevent further disturbances.
The arrests marked the third time since a federal injunction was lifted March 7 that protesters have tried and failed to prevent loggers from reaching an old growth forest reserve managed primarily for fish and wildlife habitat in the Siskiyou National Forest (search).
Forest Supervisor Scott Conroy ordered the 700-acre Fiddler timber sale, and Forest Service roads leading to it, closed to the public in the name of safety until July 1, by which time the logging is expected to be completed.
The closure order shut down a camp at the Green Bridge on the Illinois River where environmentalists have been holding rallies and protests for the past two weeks.
Forest Service spokesman Tom Lavagnino said environmentalists (search) would be granted permits to monitor past and future logging, but would not be allowed into areas where work is going on.
Protesters said they want to stop any more trees from falling until rulings are made in two federal lawsuits challenging the logging, Laurel Sutherlin, a spokesman for the Oxygen Collective, said from the protest site.
"We have seen so many egregious violations of the public trust surrounding this project and have every reason to believe that will continue," he said.
A hearing is scheduled March 22 in U.S District Court in Medford on the merits of a lawsuit challenging the Forest Service decision to log inside an old growth forest reserve burned by the fire, the biggest in the nation in 2002 at 500,000 acres.
A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals injunction linked to that case had stopped the logging, but was lifted March 7.
A federal judge in Eugene has yet to rule on a request for a temporary restraining order from a separate case.
John West, president of Silver Creek Logging Co., said the federal injunction has been lifted and it is time for people to let him get to work.
"They might slow us down, but we're still winning the war," West said.
The Siskiyou National Forest drew up plans to sell a total of 370 million board-feet of timber on about 20,000 acres of the fire, 4 percent of the overall burn area, but is unlikely to come anywhere close to that goal, Forest Service spokesman Tom Lavagnino said.
Forest Service officials say logging will speed the restoration of old growth forest. Environmentalists counter that the logging will choke salmon streams with erosion.