Victory! Court Halts Roadside Post-fire Logging Project

2021

The injunction prevents more of this – logging of large and old trees that are critical for the recovering post-fire ecosystem.

Judge Halts Willamette National Forest Roadside Logging Project

Finds Agency Overreached in Using Rule for Routine Maintenance for Massive Logging Project

On November 5, 2021, a federal court halted U.S. Forest Service (Forest Service) plans to carry out extensive post-fire roadside logging. In granting a preliminary injunction, the court stopped planned commercial logging along 400 miles of roads within the Willamette National Forest. Federal District Judge Michael McShane’s order states: “Given the immense scale of this Project, which allows the felling of trees along 404 miles of forest roads, Plaintiffs [Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, and Willamette Riverkeeper] have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the claim that the Forest Service may not use the road repair and maintenance [Categorical Exclusion] to avoid [National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)] review,” page 11. The Forest Service will be largely precluded from commencing logging until the court has heard and decided on the case, likely in early 2022.

After the 2020 Labor Day wildfires, the Willamette National Forest planned a massive logging project along 400 miles of forest roads and several thousand acres under a loophole called a categorical exclusion, which would have excused the agency from the required NEPA review. If allowed to proceed under the categorical exclusion, the agency would have moved forward with large-scale logging operations without considering environmental impacts and without considering public feedback and involvement.

Crag Law Center attorney Oliver Stiefel served as lead counsel on the case.

 

“Many of the trees proposed for logging pose no imminent danger. As the judge recognized, a large majority pose a low risk, which completely undercuts the Forest Service’s attempt to rush the project forward without carefully weighing competing values and meaningfully involving the public.” 

Oliver Stiefel

Staff Attorney, Crag Law Center

In the wake of other fires, other National Forests in the region have applied a much lighter approach to post-fire roadside logging. The conservation groups did not object to removal of imminent danger trees along major roadways or repair and maintenance of bridges, including the Henline Bridge which provides access to Jawbone Flats and the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. Post-fire logging has widespread, detrimental effects on water quality, wildlife habitat, forest soils, and natural recovery.

“The court recognized that this massive post-fire logging project was not routine maintenance. The Forest Service attempted to use the fires as cover to commercially log in scenic areas and on remote roads, which risked further harm to these sensitive burned landscapes and undermined confidence in their ability to manage public lands.”

Nicky Cady

Legal Director, Cascadia Wildlands

Today’s ruling follows a settlement reached between the Forest Service and Crag’s client, Klamath Forest Alliance, earlier this year that significantly reduced the scope of a post-fire roadside logging project similarly authorized under the road repair and maintenance categorical exclusion.

Doug Heiken, Conservation and Restoration Coordinator with Oregon Wild said, “Our response after fire must be thoughtful, not rushed or we risk doing more harm to the sensitive recovery ecosystem. Experts tell us to retain as many trees to stabilize soils, provide shade and nurture the new forest.”

The planned roadside logging would impact water quality in the Willamette River and tributaries and would negatively affect adjacent streams and rivers.  Rivers in the project area are home to Upper Willamette spring chinook, bull trout, and Upper Willamette winter steelhead.

“Logging along 400 miles of roads will increase erosion and push more dirty water into the Willamette River impacting fish, freshwater mussels and adding more stress to the system.”

Travis Williams

Riverkeeper and Executive Director, Willamette Riverkeeper

Judge McShane ruled that the conservation organizations have a high likelihood of success on their claims and that logging activities will be largely paused until the court holds a full hearing on the merits of the case, likely early next year.

Resources

Read the comlaint.

Check out maps of the roadside logging proposed by the Forest Service:

Explore the media coverage:

Judge halts post-fire roadside logging on Oregon’s Willamette National Forest – OPB, Nov. 5, 2021 

Federal Judge halts roadside hazard tree removal project in Willamette National Forest – The Register Guard, Nov. 5, 2021

Our Clients

The conservation groups in this case are represented by attorneys from the Crag Law Center and Cascadia Wildlands. Crag staff attorney Oliver Stievel is serving as the lead counsel.

Cascadia Wildlands defends and restores Cascadia’s wild ecosystems in the forests, in the courts, and in the streets.

Oregon Wild works to protect and restore Oregon’s wildlands, wildlife, and waters as an enduring legacy for future generations.

Willamette Riverkeeper’s sole mission is to protect and restore the Willamette River. We believe that a river with good water quality and abundant natural habitat, safe for fishing and swimming is a basic public right. The Willamette River belongs to all of us and should be protected as such.

 

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