KETCHIKAN - U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens has added wording to an appropriations bill that would limit the time groups have to take a timber sale to court in Alaska.
Stevens, an Alaska Republican, last week added wording in the fiscal year 2004 federal appropriations bill for the Interior Department that would give groups 30 days to take a timber sale to court after exhausting the administrative appeal process in Alaska.
The bill is making its way through Congress. It next will go to the Senate floor.
The amendment also gives the federal District Court in Alaska 180 days to make a decision after an application for review is filed. If no decision is made in 180 days, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture would petition the court to proceed with the action.
In a news release, Stevens said the amendment does not limit access to the judicial system.
"It merely ensures the timely consideration of such claims," Stevens said.
He also added wording that would allow the Forest Service to cancel timber contracts that are not economic, with the consent of the buyer.
Alaska Forest Association President George Woodbury said the amendments will help the Forest Service sell timber in a timely and economic manner.
"Anything to expedite (the appeals process) would be beneficial," he said. "Time is always on the opposition's side."
Generally, the federal statute of limitations gives groups and individuals six years to file a lawsuit, but the limit isn't meaningful as a practical matter, said Tom Waldo, an attorney with the Juneau-based environmental law firm Earthjustice.
People have an incentive to file sooner rather than later, especially if an action is pending, he said.
Earthjustice doesn't object to a 180-day deadline for a court decision, but others might if their cases are be delayed as a result, Waldo said.
Aurah Landau, a grassroots organizer for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said new court deadlines could lead to more lawsuits because people won't have time to make a reasoned decision.