Victory for mature and old-growth forests

last updated April 22, 2024

Woman looking up at huge tree in Ochoco National Forest, which the BLM is proposing to log. Credit Jim Davis

Victory! Judge invalidates Trump era Forest Service decision to repeal the Eastside Screens 21-inch rule, protecting large trees like this one in the Ochoco National Forest. Photo by Jim Davis.

Huge win for over 7 million acres of large trees in Eastern Oregon

After four years of incredible advocacy from conservation groups, Tribes, and scientists, we won our lawsuit challenging the Forest Service’s rollback of the “Eastside Screens” rule protecting large trees in over 7 million acres of national forests in Eastern Oregon and Washington! 

On March 29, 2024, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken issued a decision that reinstated the 21-inch rule and ordered the Forest Service to go back to the drawing board, complete a full public process and take a hard look at the environmental impacts of their proposed actions. In her decision, Judge Aiken adopted Magistrate Hallman’s findings in August 2023 that the Forest Service broke several federal laws when repealing the 21-inch rule, and must prepare an Environmental Impact Statement before moving forward.

This is a shared victory among conservation allies, Tribes, scientists, and community advocates who all fought to restore these protections for large trees. For now, and as always, Crag and our clients will continue to fight for strong protections for forests, Tribal cultural values, wildlife, rivers, and our climate.

Background

The Eastside Screens are a longstanding set of rules to protect old growth forests and wildlife habitat on six national forests in eastern Oregon and southeast Washington. For decades, the core provision in the Screens, the “21-inch rule,” prohibited large tree logging, which protected the largest 3% of trees in the region. These mature and old growth trees provide critical wildlife habitat, safeguard clean water, and capture carbon to combat the climate crisis.

But in the last days of the Trump Administration, the Forest Service eliminated the 21-inch rule and proposed logging large trees in national forests across eastern Oregon and southwest Washington, including the Deschutes, Fremont-Winema, Ochoco, Umatilla, Malheur, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests.

On behalf of a broad coalition of environmental and forest advocates, we challenged that rollback, and we won! Judge Aiken’s decision means that large trees in over 7 million acres of national forests in Eastern Oregon and Washington are protected. If the Forest Service wants to change the 21-inch rule in the future, it must prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement, to disclose the possible outcomes of cutting large trees.

Ponderosas marked for logging Imnaha area_Credit_OregonWild

Top: Ponderosa pines marked for logging in the Imnaha area. Photo by Oregon Wild. Bottom: Hiking in the Ochoco National Forest. Photo by Jim Davis.

This is a momentous ruling. The takeaway? When we provide the legal firepower to amplify community organizing efforts, we win.

“We are pleased that the court found major deficiencies in the agency’s decision-making process, which short-shrifted public participation and bypassed bedrock environmental protections for millions of acres of public forests. We look forward to continuing to fight to defend these forests, wildlife, and the communities who use them.

– Meriel Darzen, Crag Staff Attorney

“Judge Aiken agreed with our clients on all three counts that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the Endangered Species Act–three of our nation’s foundational environmental laws. Today’s ruling affirms that the Forest Service bypassed key legal duties in getting the 21-inch rule at the 11th hour.

– Oliver Stiefel, Crag Staff Attorney

Our Clients

We filed the lawsuit on behalf of Central Oregon LandWatch, Greater Hells Canyon Council, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Oregon Wild, Sierra Club, and WildEarth Guardians. Our clients were joined by the Nez Perce Tribe, who filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief. As a result of this effort the current administration is now required to restore protections for large trees in our national forests to support wildlife, clean water, and carbon storage on public lands.

Crag attorneys Oliver Stiefel and Meriel Darzen with clients and supporters in May 2023 after oral arguments in Pendleton, OR.

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