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Federal appeals court strikes down White House forest fire rule

[JURIST] A Bush administration rule aimed at preventing urban forest fires was struck down as arbitrary and capricious by a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Wednesday, drawing praise from environmental groups [Sierra Club press release]. The rule would have exempted from environmental review any logging project covering less than 1,000 acres and any forest burn covering less than 4,500 acres. The intent of the rule was to allow the Forest Service to cut brush and use controlled burns to regulate forest fires, but the Ninth Circuit's decision [PDF text] found that the Forest Service failed to properly assess the potential impact the rule would have on the environment before promulgating the rule, thus rendering the rule an unreasoned decision.

The rule, known as the "hazardous fuels reduction categorical exclusion," was established in 2003 by the Forest Service as part of the Bush administration's Healthy Forests Initiative [official materials]. The initiative was implemented in response to the disastrous 2000 fire season [National Park Service backgrounder], which burned more than 8.4 million acres of land. AP has more.

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