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RALEIGH, NC (AP) — A judge says it’s too early to step into a dispute over new rules allowing billboard companies to cut down more trees around their North Carolina signs.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports that Wake County Superior Court Judge Lucy Inman refused to halt the temporary rules that took effect last week. The judge says the state is not ready to issue tree-cutting permits until later this month.

The nonprofit group Scenic NC sued the state Department of Transportation last week to stop the rules.

The rules sought by billboard companies allow them to cut trees within 380 feet around road signs in rural areas, an increase from 250 feet. The state Transportation Department estimates that could mean as many as 200,000 trees will be cut down.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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