Environmentalists have failed to convince a federal judge to block a logging project on public land in western Oregon.
The plaintiffs — Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity and Benton Forest Coalition — claimed the Rickard Creek Project timber sale would harm the red tree vole.
The forest rodent’s population has declined due to habitat fragmentation and it’s a candidate for the federal list of threatened and endangered species, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Last year, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management approved a logging project for the 100-acre property southwest of Philomath, Ore., because the trees were overly dense.
The harvest would leave about 10 trees per acre but remove some that were occupied by red tree voles, the agency said.
The BLM nonetheless found that the area was not a “high priority” site for the species and wouldn’t bring it closer to needing federal protection.
The environmentalists claimed these conclusions were “arbitrary and capricious” in violation of federal land management law.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken disagreed with the plaintiffs that BLM lacked proper rationale to deem the project area as a non-high priority site for the vole.
The logging project will exclude a majority of the “old growth” trees that voles depend on for habitat and the timber sale is surrounded by nearly 400 acres of forest that is suitable for the species, the judge said.
For these reasons, it’s reasonable that red tree voles will become re-established in the project area within 30 years, as the BLM concluded, the ruling said.
“Thus while this court may have reached a different conclusion based on the same evidence, because it may not subsitute its judgment for that of the BLM, the agency’s decision must be upheld,” Aiken said.
The judge refused to grant an injunction against the logging project and dismissed the environmentalists’ lawsuit against the agency.