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Groups get $75,000 in forest thinning case

Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

A federal judge awarded $75,000 to environmental groups that litigated against a forest thinning project on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property in western Oregon.

Litigating against a forest thinning project on public land in western Oregon has netted environmental groups $75,000 in attorney fees.

Several environmental groups opposed the 330-acre North Fork Outlook project on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property near Alsea, Ore.

The plaintiffs were Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild and the Benton Forest Coalition.

The 330-acre area experienced a serious fire in 1931, though some trees survived the blaze.

Since then, younger trees have sprouted up around the older ones, some of which are now 200 years old.

The BLM planned to thin the area to improve conditions for these “legacy trees” as well as habitat for threatened species — the marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl.

The plan called for reducing the current density from about 150-160 trees per acre to 35-45 trees.

The environmentalists sought to block the project in court because they claimed BLM hadn’t analyzed possible harms to the red tree vole, a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection.

In 2012, a federal judge rejected two of their three claims against the BLM. 

However, he did agree that the agency failed to properly account for “significant new information” — the vole’s candidacy for the list of threatened and endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had found that the vole warranted inclusion on the list, but this was precluded by more pressing priorities.

Ultimately, though, the thinning project was allowed to move forward earlier this year due to a settlement deal. The BLM agreed to establish buffers around known vole sites that would protect them from logging.

The environmental groups claimed they were owed roughly $100,000 in attorney fees for the victory. 

The BLM claimed its actions were “substantially justified” and thus the agency shouldn’t have to pay compensation.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken disagreed with the agency’s argument but reduced the award because “this court’s holding did not significantly effect the status of the proposed project.”

She also reduced the higher “expert” hourly rates sought by two of the environmentalist attorneys because they were fresh out of law school.



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