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Judges quote Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Lorax’ in denying permit for pipeline through national forest

Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” was adapted into an animated film in 2012.
Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” was adapted into an animated film in 2012. (Universal Pictures via Associated Press/File)

It seems a panel of judges in Virginia cared “a whole awful lot.”

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit channeled the environmentally conscious message in Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” this month in its decision to vacate a power company’s permit for a proposed underground pipeline through 21 miles of national forest.

At issue was whether the US Forest Service complied with environmental law when it issued a special-use permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in parts of the George Washington and Monongahela national forests in Virginia, and granted a right-of-way across the Appalachian Trail.

According to court documents, the construction — part of a much larger pipeline plan through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina — would involve “clearing trees and other vegetation,” and “digging a trench to bury the pipeline, and blasting and flattening ridgelines in mountainous terrains.”

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In its 60-page decision, the court wrote that the US Forest Service failed in its duties to be ambassadors to the great outdoors, after the agency OK’d the plan.

To hammer home the point, the judges got Seussical, and called to mind the furry fictional forest dweller known for his crusade to keep natural resources thriving.

“We trust the United States Forest Service to ‘speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues,’ ” the court said, quoting “The Lorax.” “A thorough review of the record leads to the necessary conclusion that the Forest Service abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources.”

“The Lorax” was written by Springfield native Dr. Seuss — real name Theodor Seuss Geisel — in 1971. It tells the tale of an orange creature with a comically large mustache who “speaks for” the Truffula trees, which are being chopped down by the book’s antagonist, a money-hungry character called the Once-ler.

In the book, the Lorax informs the Once-ler that his tree-removal operation is negatively affecting the environment, telling him in Seuss’ sing-song way, “Thanks to your hacking my trees to the ground, there’s not enough Truffula Fruit to go ’round.”

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The book was adapted into a TV special in 1972 and an animated film in 2012.

Officials from The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, in Springfield, said the author “spent much of his childhood wandering the woods and trails of Forest Park” in the city.

“The Lorax,” they said, was one of the first children’s books dedicated to the environment.

“Dr. Seuss truly believed in the intelligence of children, and he believed that children were the ones who could make a difference in the world,” Kay Simpson, president and CEO of the Springfield Museums, said in a statement, “especially if we care a whole awful lot.”

This isn’t the first time “The Lorax” has taken center stage for its relationship to nature.

In July, researchers from Dartmouth College released a paper that theorize d Dr. Seuss drew his inspiration for tale from a trip to Kenya.

According to the study, led by anthropology professor Nathaniel Dominy, “the spiky, barren trees outside the Once-ler’s home look like the whistling thorn acacia” found in Kenya, and the Lorax itself resembles the patas monkey, which relies on the acacia tree for most of its diet.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear. John Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

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