Oregon Logging Project Needs a Fresh Analysis

     (CN) – The withdrawal of a road plan in Oregon’s Whitman-Wallowa National Forest requires regulators to rework plans for a logging project, the 9th Circuit ruled Thursday.
     Former Whitman-Wallowa supervisor Monica Schwalbach withdrew the Travel Management Plan (TMP) for the 2.3-million acre forest in northeastern Oregon shortly after it was issued in 2012. The withdrawal was in part a response to local worries about access to firewood, grazing rights, mining claims and motorized forest recreation.
     The long process of completing a new travel plan is now under way, but the withdrawal has in the meantime helped a challenge by environmentalists to the 29,000-acre Snow Basin logging project, which the Forest Service has been planning since 2008.
     Seeking to enjoin the project, the League of Wilderness Defenders, Blue Mountain Biodiversity Project and the Hells Canyon Preservation Council argued, among other things, that the agency should re-examine how the logging project might affect the forest’s substantial elk population, since the assumptions it made under the old travel plan are now moot.
     Finding that they were not likely to succeed with this or any of their other objections to the project, U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez in Portland refused to issue an injunction.
     A three-judge appellate panel reversed on Thursday, remanding the case and directing the lower court to fashion an order “sufficient to protect the status quo while the USFS completes a supplemental environmental impact statement.”
     Because the givens used by the agency while studying the project’s likely effects on the elk population are no longer valid, the impact statement is now unclear and thus in violation of federal environmental rules, the Seattle-based panel found.
     The pre-withdrawal impact statement, for example, predicted that the 2012 travel plan would “result in a substantial improvement in elk security habitat in the Snow Basin project area,” Judge Ronald Gould wrote for the panel.
     “Without supplemental analysis of impacts absent the TMP, previously stressed in parts of the agency’s assessment, the public would be at risk of proceeding on mistaken assumptions,” he added.

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