A federal judge has shot down several environmentalist arguments against a 2,000-acre thinning project in Oregon’s Mount Hood National Forest.
The U.S. Forest Service found that thinning was necessary for forest health but the Bark environmental group filed a lawsuit seeking to block the Jazz timber sale last year.
The controversy centered on rebuilding about 12 miles of temporary roads, which Bark claimed would reactivate large-scale soil shifts known as “earthflows.”
U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez has rejected the group’s claim that the Forest Service inadequately studied this possibility.
“At the recommendation of a slope stability specialist, all unstable and potentially unstable areas were examined and eliminated from the project,” said Hernandez.
The judge also disagreed that the agency insufficiently examined alternative methods of extracting trees, like using a helicopter.
“The Forest Service explained that helicopter logging was considered, but not feasible due to the small benefit but high cost, and that the project allows opportunity for restoration,” he said.
While the agency acknowledged that the road reconstruction will deposit an additional 19 tons of sediment into streams, that’s an increase of about 0.01 percent, the judge said.
Sediment from log trucks will be reduced by limiting hauls during times when runoff is most likely to occur, he said.
“In addition to the dry and wet season haul restrictions, equipment slope restriction, erosion control methods and stream protection buffers will also minimize the sediment impact,” Hernandez said.
During oral arguments in March, attorneys for the Forest Service claimed that Bark had opted out of consulting on the project.
If the agency curtailed the project’s size to alleviate all of the group’s complaints, only 100 acres would be available for thinning, the agency said.
Bark claimed that the Forest Service would still be able to thin 1,000 acres if it didn’t rebuild the temporary roads.
Aside from the road allegations, Hernandez also dismissed the environmental group’s other claims, like the increased risk of invasive species.
Bark said that prohibiting new roads would prevent new introductions of unwanted species, but the judge said this wasn’t accurate.
“Plaintiff is incorrect, as the risk of invasive species may exist even without the Jazz project because vehicles, people and animals are capable of transporting seeds of invasive species,” he said.