Of trees and suits

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This is one timber transaction we're happy to see environmentalists jump into.

Over the years this newspaper has been critical of environmentalist groups that have tied up timber sales and delayed or prevented the very goal those groups purport to support: The health of our forests. Lawsuits have been the wooden swords wielded by some of these groups against not just commercial interests, but U.S. Forest Service professionals backed by scientific research illuminating the best ways to maintain healthy forests.

Last week, however, a new twist in the lawsuit game emerged when Kootenai Environmental Alliance filed suit against the U.S. Corps of Engineers over an urban stretch of trees that is near and dear to many a Coeur d'Alene heart. Only this time, we think the litigation has roots in reason.

According to KEA, the Corps has mandated removal of some 500 trees along Rosenberry Drive, better known as the Dike Road, without an environmental analysis being done. That would constitute a breach of the National Environmental Policy Act.

While conceding that this is an emotional issue for many of us who admire the trees that have provided shade and aesthetic value to generations of residents and visitors alike, what's needed here is scientific evidence that those trees on the levee pose safety concerns with the 100-year flood plain in the dike road's adjacent Fort Grounds neighborhood.

The problem, according to KEA and others, is that the Corps is issuing similar orders nationwide as something of a knee-jerk reaction to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The assumption that all tree-lined levees present the same level of safety threats to nearby flood plains has yet to be validated, however. We certainly don't know if that's true, and the KEA lawsuit in essence is asking for specific proof in the Dike Road case.

If we can all put our politics and personal biases in back pockets for a little while and allow actual science to answer the relevant questions here, a course for proper procedure will become clear.

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