SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge Monday refused to block a federal plan to open 2,000 acres of the Klamath River watershed to logging, a move critics said will threaten endangered species and increase risks of landslides and forest fires.
The Karuk Tribe, the Center for Biological Diversity and three other groups sued the National Marine Fisheries Service in March, claiming its opinion authorizing the logging project ignores obvious harm to endangered coho salmon.
After a hearing Monday, U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney denied the motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.
Chesney found the groups were unlikely to succeed on their claim that the Fisheries Service opinion violates the National Forest Management Act, plaintiffs' attorney Tom Wheeler said.
"She said the balance of equities in terms of harm favored the forest industry and timber interveners," Wheeler told Courthouse News.
The American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group, filed a motion in intervention last week, opposing the request for a restraining order.
The timber industry and Fisheries Service said that the opinion authorizing the project did not violate federal law, that the project considered and addressed the risk of landslides, and that the plaintiffs failed to show irreparable harm to coho salmon.
The U.S. Forest Service proposed the Westside Project to clear thousands of acres of trees scorched in a 2014 wildfire and to reforest the area. Commercial logging will produce around 75 million feet of "merchantable timber" that will take 15,000 logging trucks to haul away, according to the plaintiff's complaint.
Contested portions of the project area include 187,100 acres of public land in the middle of the Klamath River Basin, in the Karuks' aboriginal territory.
Under the plan, 5,760 acres of standing dead trees will be salvaged and 3,700 acres will be opened to commercial logging. The plan also authorizes creating 6.2 miles of temporary roads, 75 new landing areas for hauling, reforestation and legacy sediment treatments to keep sediment from polluting streams.
Wheeler said logging has already begun, and the judge's denial of the restraining order will allow salvage logging, "the hottest of the issues," to go forward.
Timber removal will cause more harm to already endangered species like coho salmon and the spotted owl, both "on the brink of extinction," and harm to non-endangered species like beetles, woodpeckers and chipmunks, all which play vital roles in balancing the watershed's sensitive habitat, Wheeler said.
"Plaintiffs do not believe the Forest Service plan will improve the fire risk or fire danger for these communities," Wheeler said. "We think it would make the odds of a hot, high-severity fire more likely, so it's a whole host of issues."
Wheeler said his clients have not decided whether they will appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court.
Jim Milbury, spokesman for the Western Region of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the Fisheries Services, declined to comment Tuesday.
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