Victory for mature and old-growth forests

last updated August 30, 2023

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″ 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

Crag and our clients won an early victory in our “Eastside Screens” lawsuit challenging  the Trump-era rollback that opened up over 7 million acres of national forest in Eastern Oregon and Washington to large tree logging.

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 key part of 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 today, a federal judge issued a sweeping recommendation that the Forest Service broke the law when repealing the 21 inch rule. The court recommended that the Forest Service’s decision be vacated (i.e. canceled) and the agency be required to 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 momentous ruling is an important victory that puts us back on a path to protecting large trees and keeping carbon in our forests.

“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

“The Magistrate Judge 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″ 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. Together, our clients ask the current administration 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.

Looking Ahead

Today’s preliminary victory for our clients is an important first step in restoring these forest protections. The Magistrate Judge recommended that the Forest Service’s decision be vacated (i.e. canceled) and the agency be required to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement before attempting to remove forest protections. Next, Judge Ann Aiken of the District of Oregon will review the court’s findings and recommendations and issue a final decision. If our clients prevail, the Forest Service must return to the drawing board and complete a full public comment process and take a hard look at the environmental impacts of their proposed actions, with large trees remaining protected in the interim. For now, and as always, Crag and our clients will continue to fight for strong protections for our forests, wildlife, rivers, and climate.

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