SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Two roadless areas in the Forest Service’s salvage logging operation on thousands of burned acres in southeastern Washington can be designated wilderness areas, the 9th Circuit ruled.
A 2005 forest fire took out 28,000 acres of the Umatilla National Forest, prompting the Forest Service Chief to issue an emergency determination the following summer to initiate immediate logging on 9,000 acres or lose $1.5 million in government revenue, to which The Lands Council, Oregon Wild, Hells Canyon Preservation Council and Sierra Club objected.
After environmental groups challenged the government’s practice of harvesting “live trees,” the forest supervisor clarified the term in a site-specific amendment stating that dying trees were not live trees according to field mortality guidelines. The groups then attacked the amendment as an inexplicable policy change.
The appeals court ruled that the government offered a clear explanation for the amendment, which is not considered significant because it does not apply to trees affected by prescribed burning, flooding, disease or insect infestation.
The 9th Circuit determined that the two disputed roadless areas – West Tucannon and Upper Cummins Creek – can potentially be designated as wilderness areas. Though each area is uninventoried by the government and is less than 5,000 acres, they still qualify for consideration, especially because the areas border a larger inventoried area, making a roadless expanse. The agency’s current analysis on the area’s “roadless character” has legal errors and fails to mention the expanse, though its soil analysis is adequate, the court ruled.
The three-judge panel reversed the finding that the Forest Service’s discussion of logging effects in roadless areas complied with the National Environmental Policy Act.