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New Mexico Firewood Feud Resolved as Temperatures Dip

The Mexican spotted owl, found in several Western states including New Mexico, was first listed as threatened in the United States in 1993. (
The Mexican spotted owl, found in several Western states including New Mexico, was first listed as threatened in the United States in 1993. (
October 2, 2019

SANTA FE, N.M. – Firewood permit sales will resume in New Mexico national forests after a judge modified a court order aimed at protecting the endangered Mexican spotted owl.

The ruling had suspended all timber-management activities after a judge ruled in favor of the group WildEarth Guardians in a 2013 lawsuit.

The court concurred with the group's claim that a thinning and logging plan by federal agencies failed to consider impact on the owls.

John Horning, WildEarth Guardians' executive director, contended that the Forest Service created an "unnecessary panic" over firewood permit sales by not working with the group to have the judge amend his order.

"I mean, I feel badly," he said, "not for bringing our lawsuit, not for winning it, but for the way in which people have been manipulated by the agency."

New Mexico's governor, congressional delegation and state lawmakers all stepped into the fray, telling federal officials that thousands of people, especially in rural New Mexico, would be affected because they rely on firewood to heat their homes.

The Forest Service had more than 8,000 active permits for personal firewood cutting on file when the ban took effect.

The court ruling still bans forest-thinning projects, prescribed burns and commercial timber harvest until the federal agencies can count the owl population and assess its habitats in accordance with the Endangered Species Act. Horning said his group still is concerned that the overly broad ruling handicaps local groups who do trail work.

"That issue of the injunction, with respect to trail maintenance, still needs to be dealt with," he said, "so we've also filed a motion asking the judge to direct the parties into mediation so that we can resolve these other issues as well."

The Forest Service said it will file court documents in the next week seeking further clarification of the judge's order.

Meanwhile, the state Republican Party, led by former U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, is urging an appeal of the Sept. 11 ruling, arguing that the lawsuit, not the Forest Service, caused the problem.

The text of the court ruling is online at

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM