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Know the West

Big trees fall in contested sale

  Big ponderosa pine trees came crashing down Sept. 30 near Ojo Caliente, N.M., after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied yet another attempt by the environmental group Forest Guardians to stop part of the La Manga timber sale.

"This is the last 3 percent of the forest that has old-growth ponderosa pine left," lamented Sam Hitt of Forest Guardians. Even though the Forest Service has voluntarily protected some never-logged trees in the Carson National Forest, Hitt said he believed any trees estimated by the Forest Service as 75 to 250 years old should not be cut.

Antonio "Ike" DeVargas has pressed the Forest Service to allow the sale, and his firm, La Compania de Ocho, quickly moved to cut trees. The sale has been held up since 1994 by three different lawsuits.

DeVargas said the sale has 845,000 board-feet of timber, enough to keep his company working for almost a year. He will employ 12 people who will make $12 to $16 an hour, and this will help the poverty-ridden villages of northern New Mexico, he said.

Hitt said Forest Guardians intends to file a contempt-of-court motion against the Forest Service, covering 22 old-growth sales in the Southwest, most of them already partially cut. The group will continue the La Manga case as part of that motion, even though many big trees will likely be gone by then.

El Rito District Ranger Kurt Winchester, who oversees the sale, said although the lawsuits are far from over, he's glad to have some logging activity. "We're getting something done now," he said. "We've got some people going back to work."

*Jason Lenderman