The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has violated a court order by again proposing to harvest timber within a “recreation management zone” on public land near Springfield, Ore., according to a federal judge.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mustafa Kasubhai has recommended that environmental groups prevail in their claim that BLM’s 100-acre Pedal Power project is inconsistent with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
The timber sale was previously found to violate federal law in 2019 by U.S. District Judge Michael McShane, who faulted BLM for proposing to “cut the trees first, zone the buffer later” along recreation trails in the Thurston Hills area.
The judge said that “allowing logging and then establishing a Recreation Management Zone at some unspecified later date—if at all—seems to defeat the Zone’s very purpose.”
Last year, the agency re-proposed the project with a “recreation management zone” surrounding the trails, which would be constructed once the logging was finished. The BLM argued that it’d be inefficient to develop the trails beforehand because harvest operations would “rip them up.”
The Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild nonprofits filed another lawsuit against the timber sale, alleging the government was “trying the same thing and expecting different results” by logging within the buffer zone.
Judge Kasubhai has now agreed with the environmental plaintiffs that BLM failed to follow the instructions of the earlier court order, since its revised version of the project “proposes to log the identical area.”
“In other words, other than simply adding the trail designations and an RMZ to a map, BLM has not taken affirmative steps to preserve the RMZ in any meaningful manner prior to the harvest as ordered by Judge McShane,” he said. “Because BLM’s current plan fails to take affirmative steps to preserve the RMZ prior to timber harvesting, it violates Judge McShane’s prior order as a matter of law.”
However, the judge recommended that BLM and the Seneca Sawmill Co. — which intervened in the case — were correct that the project complied with the National Environmental Policy Act.
In the earlier lawsuit, the agency was found to violate NEPA by not taking a sufficient “hard look” at the project’s fire risks and not sharing important information with the public.
Judge Kasubhai has now determined that BLM has corrected these flaws in its revised plan, in which the agency concluded the project’s “effects on fire hazard would be the same under all alternatives, although the timing of these effects would differ.”
The parties in the lawsuit will now file arguments over the appropriate remedy for BLM’s violation of FLPMA. The ultimate decision will be made by a U.S. district judge who reviews Kasubhai’s recommendations.