Crag Files New Case to Protect the Ochoco Mountains

by Oliver Stiefel |April 23, 2020

On Monday April 20, Crag filed a new federal lawsuit challenging a major logging project in the Ochoco National Forest in Central Oregon. Filed on behalf of long-time clients Central Oregon LandWatch and Oregon Wild, the case seeks to protect sensitive streamside areas nestled within wildflower meadows and stands of old-growth groves of ponderosa pine.

 The “Black Mountain” timber sale authorizes forest management activities across 16,000 acres in the heart of the Ochocos. The timber sale involves activities such non-commercial thinning, prescribed burning, and restoration designed to help contribute to forest health and resilience. But the Forest Service also plans to implement aggressive commercial logging activities in riparian areas. Countless scientific studies have conclusively demonstrated that logging and road building in riparian areas has devastating consequences for water quality and delicate habitats. Despite tireless efforts by local conservation groups, who represent the interests of hikers, hunters, wildlife photographers, and countless others, the Forest Service ploughed ahead with its flawed proposal to log units along streams, wetlands, and other sensitive riparian habitats.

Riparian areas provide habitat for almost all species in the Ochocos. Cow elk select areas near water with sufficient forage and cover in the spring of each year to give birth. Each fall, bull elk move to wetted areas where they cover themselves in mud, and their own urine and feces (their perfume), to attract cow elk for breeding. Rivers and streams in the Ochocos are home to numerous fish and amphibian species, including Redband trout and Columbia spotted frog. These species require clear, cold, well-oxygenated water, and cover from predators under overhanging banks.

The Ochocos provide critical elk habitat.

Although riparian areas are intended to be guarded from high-disturbance activities, the Black Mountain timber sale authorizes nearly 500 acres of commercial logging in riparian areas, in addition to construction or reconstruction of dozens of miles of roads along stream corridors. The noise from logging and road work activities displaces wildlife and impedes essential life cycle functions. These activities also compact soils and trample stream banks, contributing to severe erosion into streams and impairing water quality.

 This is not the first time the Forest Service has planned a habitat-damaging project in the Ochocos. Just last year, Crag and partners secured an important victory to stop a proposal to build a 137-mile off-road vehicle trail system that would have posed severe threats to sensitive habitats. The federal court determined that the Forest Service failed to protect habitat for elk calving and mating, wolf dispersal habitat, and aquatic habitat for Redband trout. The federal court decision should have made crystal clear that the Forest Service must do more to identify and protect fish and wildlife habitat.

With the Black Mountain timber sale, however, the Forest Service simply ignored the earlier court decision, once again disregarding a number of environmental laws in place to protect wildlife habitat, water quality, and sensitive ecosystems. On behalf of LandWatch and Oregon Wild, Crag has stepped up to challenge the Forest Service’s approval of this controversial timber sale. Crag will stand up to the Forest Service in federal court to hold the agency accountable, defending the public’s right to balanced use of our public lands, healthy fish and wildlife habitat, and high-quality recreational opportunities now and for future generations.