Environmental groups want to stop a logging project in an Oregon national forest that the federal government says is needed to reduce fire risk.
Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild have filed a complaint against the U.S. Forest Service, alleging the agency approved the 835-acre Loafer Timber Sale in violation of federal environmental law.
The plaintiffs claim the agency should have conducted an extensive review, known as an environmental impact statement, to gauge the effect of logging on sensitive forest species.
Less comprehensive studies conducted by the Forest Service “fail to disclose a number of key pieces of information, which makes assessment of the environmental consequences of the proposed project impossible,” the complaint said.
Specifically, the plaintiffs claim that the agency left out information about the number of large trees in the area, the size of old growth habitat and the use of explosives in road building.
The complaint alleges the logging project will harm the northern spotted owl, which is listed as threatened, as well as the wolverine and Oregon spotted frog, which are proposed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
According to the Forest Service, the purpose of the project is to restore various pine species in the area that have been suppressed by Douglas fir and white fir.
“These changes have resulted in an increased risk of disturbance from fire due to increased fuel levels and fuel ladders created by the development of shade-tolerant understories,” the agency said in the project’s environmental assessment.
Cheryl Caplan, public affairs officer for the Umpqua National Forest, said she couldn’t comment on the litigation but said the project is meant to mimic smaller fires that have been excluded from the area.
“We really wanted to maintain and promote the pine species,” she said.
There is historical evidence of meadows in the area, which the Forest Service is hoping to restore, Caplan said.
Logging will consist of commercial and pre-commercial thinning, she said.
An economic incentive is needed to complete the project, as the Forest Service doesn’t have enough funds to complete such restoration by itself, said Caplan.
“It doesn’t do us any good to put sales up there that don’t have any commercial aspect to them,” she said.