9th Circuit Approves Forest Thinning Project

     (CN) — The 9th Circuit on Monday approved an experimental forest thinning project meant to reduce wildfires and beetle infestations in Oregon’s Cascade mountain range.
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     The federal appeals court in Portland found that the U.S. Forest Service’s plan to log 2,554 acres in the Deschutes National Forest meets federal guidelines for experimental thinning, fuels reduction and research programs. The project, which is already underway on the Lookout Mountain Unit of the Pringle Falls Experimental Forest, has been challenged by League of Wilderness Defenders – Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project since its inception.
     The environmental group claimed in a 2010 lawsuit that the agency had failed to adhere to rigorous federal environmental standards while planning the project, and that it had used “hyperbolic” language, such as that wildfire and infestation posed an “imminent risk” to the forest and would likely be “catastrophic”, to drum up public support for logging on the public lands.
     U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan disagreed and ruled for the Forest Service, finding that the agency had broad discretion when planning projects for experimental forests.
     The League of Wilderness Defenders also failed to win an emergency injunction against the project last summer, and Interfor Pacific Inc. moved ahead with logging, according to the court. The project, which will remove about 27 to 29 million board feet of timber, or about 70 percent of trees larger than 6 inches in diameter at breast height, is expected to last until 2013.
     The 9th Circuit’s three-judge panel unanimously affirmed on Monday.
     “The service proposes a forest management research project in an experimental forest specifically set aside for such study,” wrote Judge William Fletcher for the court. “The EIS considers in detail a reasonable range of alternatives that would fulfill both of the project’s goals by reducing the risk of wildfire and beetle infestation, and by addressing six specified research objectives. The EIS is adequately supported by scientific data and takes a hard look at the significant impacts of the project.”
     As for the agency’s alleged use of hyperbole, the panel found that it was a “close question” but that the Forest Service could be excused because it tempered the language somewhat by explaining that “imminent risk does not mean immediate mortality.”

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