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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Logging Poses Risk to Owl and Salmon, Groups Say

EUGENE, Ore. (CN) - A Willamette National Forest logging plan will harm the already threatened northern spotted owl and Chinook salmon, two environmental groups claim.

The U.S. Forest Service failed to "analyze the environmental effects," or address "the scientific controversy," of the Goose Logging Project in the McKenzie River Watershed, according to the federal complaint.

Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild say logging the 2,100-acre logging area, which includes the 9,700-acre Lookout Mountain area above McKenzie Bridge, would cause serious harm and ecosystem damage within streamside buffers and endangered species habitat.

Any activity within the renowned McKenzie River basin should be for restorative purposes only, according to Cascadia Wildlands, which focuses on the forests along the Pacific Coast from northern California to south-central Alaska.

Harvesting old growth trees in the forest could also harm the northern spotted owl, a threatened species that calls the area home, according to the groups.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that the northern spotted owl "occupies late-successional and old-growth forest habitat from southern British Columbia through Washington, Oregon and California," because these forests usually contain a moderate to high canopy which allow the birds to fly and have hollow trees or trees with cavities which makes for optimal roosting, according to the complaint.

Its study allegedly found that the removal of old growth forests severely impacts these already threatened animals.

"Logging, road building, and fuel treatments authorized by the Goose Project will remove or downgrade 454 acres of suitable nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat for the threatened spotted owl," the lawsuit states. "The Goose project would also remove 371 acres of spotted owl dispersal habitat."

"The Forest Service acknowledges that seven spotted owl nest sites would be harmed by Goose Project activities," the complaint states.

Since the spotted owl competes with the more aggressive barred owl for food, the threat is even greater, according to the groups.

Barred owls are a fairly new addition to the Pacific Northwest, the complaint says. They are more adaptable, more aggressive, have a wider variety in diet, and will even attack and kill their cousins.

"Northern spotted owl populations have declined at the greatest rate in the north where barred owls have been present the longest," the complaint states. "Although northern spotted owl populations have been declining for many years, the presence of barred owls likely exacerbates the decline."

The proposed clearing of streamside buffers in the McKenzie River could also decrease the population of Chinook salmon, another threatened species, according to the groups.

"The McKenzie River is the only waterway in the Upper Willamette Basin to sustain any significant level of spring Chinook salmon," the complaint states.

Work on the Goose project began three years ago, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Promising that the Goose project will reduce fire risk, provide timber, create jobs and improve wildlife forage, the agency says it has "responded to the concerns raised by residents and made numerous adjustments to the project; including modifying the project near private property boundaries."

"The harvest plans purposely exclude cutting larger, older trees that are present within the larger planning area," according to the agency's website. "Harvest will occur of trees that are from 40-120 years, with the bulk of the harvest occurring of trees that are 60-80 years old. While definitions of Old Growth vary by region and the scientist making the analysis, generally in the McKenzie Bridge area a tree is not considered Old Growth until it is 200 years old. Some people have told us they are not in favor of any logging or would prefer we only thin plantations under the age of 80."

The agency says it launched the project after conducting an environmental assessment, but the preservation groups want a more thorough look.

"The Forest Service's failure to disclose and analyze scientific information counseling against the activities proposed by the agency, or that call into question the expected environmental effects of the proposed action, and to insure that the proposed alternative supports the purpose and need, is arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with law," according to the complaint.

Claiming violations of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), the groups want an environmental impact statement and an injunction.

"NEPA procedures must insure that environmental information is available to public officials and citizens before decisions are made and before actions are taken," the complaint states.

Though the groups say some residents of the McKenzie Bridge area learned about the project only after seeing timber sale flagging near their properties, the government says it ran numerous notices in the local newspaper, The Register-Guard, held a public meeting, and made information available to interested parties.

The groups are represented by Susan Jane M. Brown with Western Environmental Law Center in Portland.

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