Ruling a blow to salvage logging
Herald and News 7/25/07
GRANTS PASS (AP) — Bush administration efforts to boost salvage logging after wildfires suffered a loss Tuesday when a federal appeals court upheld a ruling that had stopped harvest of burned trees in an old growth forest reserve on federal lands in southern Oregon.
The 2-1 ruling by a three judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene that stopped the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from logging 23.4 million board feet of timber from 961 acres burned by the Timbered Rock fire outside Medford in 2002. From page A1
T he appeals court found that BLM's plan to harvest dead and dying trees violated its own management plans and a mandate to maintain and preserve old-growth forest ecosystems, including trees killed by fire, under the Northwest Forest Plan, which was adopted in 1994 to protect habitat for northern spotted owls, salmon, and other species.
The Northwest Forest Plan cut timber production by more than 80 percent on federal lands in Washington, Oregon and California. In an agreement to settle lawsuits brought by the timber industry, the Bush administration has been trying to boost timber production under the plan, but court rulings have stymied many of the efforts.
George Sexton, conservation director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, one of the conservation groups that won the injunction stopping the salvage logging, said BLM's project was part of a pattern of efforts to cut corners politically, legally and ecologically to promote logging in old growth forests.
However, the appeals court ruling “resets the bar for post-fire logging in old-growth reserves back to what the authors of the Northwest Forest Plan intended, particularly for BLM lands,” he added.
The court also found that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to adequately analyze the cumulative environmental damage from scraping 33 miles of fire line and dropping 40,000 gallons of chemical retardant on the area to put out the fire.
The Northwest Forest Plan “clearly states that salvaging should be minimal, that environmental concerns ought to take priority over potential commercial benefits, and that large (dead trees) should be retained so as to ensure the development and preservation of (old growth) habitat,” Judge Dorothy W. Nelson wrote for the majority.
“Despite these numerous mandates emphasizing that logging snags should not harm (old growth forest reserves), the BL M neglects to explain how the Timbered Rock Project avoids doing just that,” Nelson wrote.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain wrote that he felt the court was substituting its own “best vision” for forest management for the specific language of the law and the professional expertise of the federal agency.
BLM Oregon spokeswoman Jody Weil said the agency had not reviewed the ruling and could not immediately comment.
At t or ney S c ot t W. Horngren, who represented timber industry interveners in the case, noted that a different U.S. District Court judge and a d i f ferent th ree -judge panel of the 9th Circuit had upheld a very similar plan by the U.S. Forest Service for salvage logging on the 2002 Biscuit fire.
“ T hey a r e s e c ondguessing agency actions a nd roll i ng up thei r sleeves and, as the dissent says, becoming the foresters,” Horngren said of the appeals court.
Horngren noted that the salvage logging would have covered less than 10 percent of the 12,000 acres burned by the Timbered Rock fire.