Oregon Logging Project Dodges Nonprofit’s Suit

     (CN) – An environmental group cannot prevent logging in Oregon’s Umatilla National Forest, a federal judge in Portland, Ore., ruled.

     The League of Wilderness Defenders claimed that the U.S. Forest Service should have prepared an environmental impact statement before authorizing logging activities in 25,450 acres of Umatilla National Forest.
     The environmental group also sued Dodge Lodging, which bought the harvested logs from the Forest Service’s vegetation-management project.
     After finishing an environmental assessment last July, Forest Service Supervisor Kevin Martin made a “finding of no significant impact” and authorized the timber sale.
     He said the sale was necessary to “reduce stand densities, develop specific stand structures, alter species composition, and reduce fuel loadings in order to reduce conditions favorable to insect and disease outbreaks and wildfire damage.”
     Among other things, the timber sale authorized commercial and noncommercial thinning and mechanical-fuels treatment, in addition to the opening of 23 miles of closed roads and maintenance work on open roads.
     But the League of Wilderness Defenders said the Forest Service should have conducted a more thorough study of the project’s environmental impact in the “ecologically critical area” without roads. In support of this claim, the nonprofit pointed to the 9th Circuit’s 1994 ruling in Smith v. U.S. Forest Service about logging on undeveloped land.
     “[T]he decision to harvest timber on a previously undeveloped tract of land is an ‘irreversible and irretrievable decision’ which could have serious environmental consequences,” according to the opinion authored by Judge Mary Schroeder.
     This reference failed to convince U.S. District Judge Anna Brown, however. In a June 23 decision, she said that the Forest Service properly concluded that there would be no significant impact on the “roadless expanses” in the forest, and that the logging would not affect the quality of the human environment.
     Brown also agreed that the Forest Service properly addressed the impact timber sale would have on climate change.
     The Forest Service had said “the climatic effects of a small project such as [the] timber sale are unquantifiable and unnoticeable on a global scale.”
     Brown also rejected the nonprofit’s argument that logging would be detrimental to the habitat of the black-backed woodpecker, “a species whose presence, absence, or relative well-being in a given environment is indicative of the environment as a whole.”
     The judge denied the league’s motion for summary judgment and granted the Forest Service and Dodge Logging’s cross-motions.

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