Early victory in case to protect Siuslaw River Watershed
Magistrate Judge allows suit against BLM logging project to move forward
April 21, 2023 | by Kenji Gullo
Judge Kasubhai’s ruling affirms that we will get our day in court to challenge this massive logging project, and that the Bureau of Land Management can’t evade judicial review. Photo by Francis Eatherington.
On April 21, 2023, Crag and our clients Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild cleared an important hurdle in protecting the Siuslaw River watershed when Magistrate Judge Mustafa Kasubhai denied the Bureau of Land Management’s motion to dismiss our challenge to logging on public lands west of Eugene.
This early victory bodes well for our ongoing litigation to safeguard imperiled species in the Siuslaw River watershed.
We argued that the Bureau of Land Management’s planned Siuslaw project violates the National Environmental Policy Act because the agency failed to prepare an environmental impact statement and consider the project’s overall impacts to the forests the Bureau of Land Management manages. In doing so, the agency excluded dozens of previously identified environmental issues from its project analysis “on the grounds that they did not relate to the Siuslaw project’s narrowly defined purpose of timber production.”
The Siuslaw logging project will clearcut mature and old growth forests that are home to at least four species protected by the Endangered Species Act, including northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet, and Chinook and Oregon Coast coho salmon. Photo of two Northern Spotted Owlets by US Forest Service.
The Bureau of Land Management thus approved the Siuslaw logging project without conducting a full environmental review, failing to consider the project’s impacts on a wide range of issues including water quality and salmon habitat, carbon sequestration, sensitive and threatened wildlife including the northern spotted owl, rare plants, and forest health.
The agency is also required under federal law to consider the negative impacts of its proposed logging on the region’s communities against the benefits of timber volume generation logging. Many residents strongly oppose the logging project, believing it will contribute to drinking water contamination, increased fire hazards, loss of recreation, soil erosion, more road construction and the destruction of wildlife habitat.
Instead of defending its decision, the government tried to dodge judicial review of its actions, arguing that our clients had not been injured by its approval of the logging project. But members of Cascadia and Oregon Wild described their connection to the threatened area, which they had explored and appreciated for many years, and explained how the planned clearcuts would affect their ability to enjoy these public lands—and the court agreed, clearing the way for our case to move forward.
“The Bureau of Land Management has argued that there won’t be any negative impacts to spotted owls or other sensitive wildlife species, or to our clients, because nearby forest reserves provide sufficient habitat and recreational opportunities, but the agency never revealed in its analysis that it’s also logging those reserve areas. The agency entirely failed to consider the cumulative impacts of these multiple logging projects.”
– Erin Hogan-Freemole, Crag Legal Fellow
Erin Hogan-Freemole and Oliver Stiefel presented the case before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mustafa Kasubhai in early March, where the government’s attorney argued the lawsuit came at an “unusually early stage and without any imminent kind of sales,” thereby lacking the injury necessary for standing. The Bureau of Land Management also contended that the agency has yet to decide precisely where within the project area it will authorize logging.
On April 21, however, Judge Kasubhai disagreed with the Bureau of Land Management, finding the agency identified and mapped out specific logging tracts within its landscaping plan, making logging inevitable.
“The Bureau of Land Management itself, in the Environmental Assessment, states that it would not be authorized to elect a non-logging alternative because it ‘would not be in conformance’ with the Resource Management Plan. That is, the Bureau of Land Management considers itself to be committed to logging in the Siuslaw Harvest Land Base and it will do so within the Siuslaw project area.” – Judge Kasubhai
Many of the local residents strongly oppose the project because they are concerned about the contamination of their drinking water, increases in fire hazard, loss of recreation opportunities, soil erosion and stability, further road construction, and the destruction of habitat that the logging may cause.