updated 10/14/2005 9:44:09 AM ET 2005-10-14T13:44:09

The U.S. Forest Service asked a federal judge to lift a ruling that it blames for holding up hundreds of small projects across the country, from cutting the Capitol Christmas tree to fishing trips.

But conservationists say the Forest Service has gone far beyond the intent of the ruling and appears to be intentionally holding up trivial projects to create a public outcry.

“It’s clear to me that the Bush administration is trying to manufacture a political crisis,” said Sean Cosgrove, a forest policy specialist for the Sierra Club.

The controversy stems from a July 2 ruling in a lawsuit filed by environmental and conservation groups. U.S. District Judge James K. Singleton Jr. found that the Forest Service was improperly approving projects without public comment or appeals.

It was not clear when Singleton would rule on the Forest Service’s request for a stay Wednesday. Among the projects the agency has put on hold in the meantime is cutting an 80-foot spruce in New Mexico to serve as a holiday tree on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.

Forest Service officials say they are only doing what is required by the judge’s ruling and want the ruling lifted so that hundreds of projects can be completed.

Matt Kenna, attorney for Western Environmental Law Center in Durango, Colo., said he has repeatedly told the Forest Service that minor activities are not affected by the ruling.

Meanwhile, some businesses are stuck in the middle.

Karl Kapuscinski, CEO of Mountain High Resort outside Los Angeles, said his company could lose millions if it has to delay the opening of ski season because of permit problems.

“We are hoping and praying somebody comes to their senses,” he said. “It’s almost comical, but it’s not.”

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