Crag Files Suit Protecting Fremont-Winema Forest Against Unlawful Logging
by Goran Pope | July 12th, 2022
Tree from Baby Bear project flagged for logging in the Fremont-Winema National Forest. Photo Credit Chandra LeGue, Oregon Wild.
Today, July 12th, Crag filed a lawsuit on behalf of two conservation groups, Oregon Wild and WildEarth Guardians, challenging the recent approval of three commercial logging projects. Combined, these projects authorize the commercial logging of tens of thousands of acres in the Fremont-Winema National Forest. The Forest Service, however, sidestepped its duty to analyze and publicly disclose the projects’ environmental impacts.
The Forest Service, which manages the Fremont-Winema Forest, approved these projects in what has become an unfortunate trend: more logging and less environmental review. Bypassing normal environmental review as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Forest Service used a “categorical exclusion” (CE), a narrow exemption to NEPA’s requirement to study and publicly disclose potential environmental impacts. CEs are reserved for small, low-impact, routine activities like replacing a culvert or rebuilding a section of trail. In this case the Forest Service used CE-6, which authorizes routine actions like prescribed burning and tree thinning to reduce fire hazards. Though the agency implemented CE-6 in 1992, until 2018 it had never used the categorical exclusion to bypass environmental analyses for projects that included commercial logging.
These projects, however, are not small, low-impact, or routine; they open a combined 29,000 acres of land to commercial logging operations.
“Categorical exclusions basically represent a bargain between the Forest Service and the public. Before adopting a new CE, the Forest Service must prove that the environmental impacts of a set of activities will be insignificant. In exchange, when the Forest Service later proposes a project that fits within the CE, it may dispense with the detailed analysis and disclosure of environmental impacts otherwise required. The Forest Service here hasn’t lived up to its end of the bargain—relying on a CE for 29,000 acres of logging is unprecedented.”
Commercial logging operations can cause significant environmental effects, including disturbing soils, causing erosion into streams, destroying or degrading wildlife habitat, releasing stored carbon, modifying fire behavior, spreading invasive weeds, degrading scenery, interfering with recreation, and more. Before approving commercial logging operations, the Forest Service is required to carefully analyze and disclose these impacts.
Crag is representing Oregon Wild and WildEarth Guardians, two conservation groups dedicated to defending our country’s forests and wildlife. Together we are fighting to protect the sensitive forest ecosystem from these harmful commercial logging projects and prevent the Forest Service from misusing CE-6 to unlawfully approve other commercial projects in the future.