updated 9/13/2005 10:43:51 AM ET 2005-09-13T14:43:51

A federal judge halted the Bush administration’s bid to keep logging 2,000 acres in Giant Sequoia National Monument, saying he questioned the science used to justify cutting in a preserve that houses two-thirds of the world’s largest trees.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, ruling in a lawsuit brought by environmentalists, also questioned whether fire control was the government’s real motive for allowing commercial logging in the monument.

The so-called “Saddle Project” was approved years ago, but cutting began only this summer, when timber prices were high.

The government, Breyer wrote late Friday in issuing a preliminary injunction barring further logging, “waited five years to execute this contract because of unfavorable timber prices.”

In 2000, just after the project was approved, Congress declared Sequoia National Forest a national monument, which generally prevented further logging on thousands of acres in the Central Valley area of Tulare County. The government argued the project was grandfathered in and therefore not covered by monument rules.

The Justice Department, which defended the logging plan in court, declined to say whether it would challenge Breyer’s injunction.

Breyer ruled that he was unsure whether the project, which included harvesting 31,000 conifer trees that are hundreds of years old, “would still protect the forest from fire.”

Sequoia trees were not targeted in the harvest by logging concern Sierra Forests Products.

The Sierra Club and other groups brought the case this year to stop the logging that began July 10 and ended Aug. 5 after Breyer issued a temporary injunction barring further harvesting. A preliminary injunction is issued when a judge believes plaintiffs would prevail at trial.

“The Forest Service has argued that because the project was approved before it being named a monument, they said they could still do this years later, but the judge said they could not,” said Patrick Gallagher, a Sierra Club attorney.

It was not immediately clear how many acres were logged over four weeks, but environmentalists estimated hundreds.

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