SALEM — Seven environmental groups are suing the Oregon Department of Forestry to halt salvage logging in the Santiam State Forest east of Salem.
The lawsuit, filed April 15 in Multnomah County Circuit Court, seeks an injunction to stop ODF from logging in areas of the state forest that burned in the 2020 Labor Day wildfires.
Plaintiffs include the Center for Biological Diversity, Audubon Society of Salem, Audubon Society of Corvallis, Benton Forest Coalition, Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild and Willamette Riverkeeper. The groups raise concerns over the impact of post-fire logging on healthy watersheds, recreation and wildlife habitat.
“Salvage logging in the Santiam State Forest will do great damage to spotted owls, struggling salmon populations, water quality and forest recovery,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Oregon Department of Forestry is stuck in the 1950s and out of step with science and the values of most Oregonians.”
Proponents of salvage logging, however, argue it is a valuable tool that can expedite forest restoration by removing dead and hazardous trees, while also maximizing the value of timber to support rural communities.
ODF manages the 47,465-acre Santiam State Forest. An estimated 24,000 acres were within the perimeters of the Beachie Creek, Lionshead and Riverside fires, three massive blazes that tore through the Santiam Canyon last year.
Of those 24,000 acres, a little more than 16,000 acres actually burned in the fires, according to ODF. The state has proposed logging and timber sales on about 3,000 acres.
In its 2021 revised operations plan for the North Cascade District, ODF calls for harvesting 56.2 million board-feet of timber. That is roughly triple what the district’s annual timber harvest objective was before the fires.
Timber sales would provide direct economic benefit to Marion, Linn and Clackamas counties, which would receive two-thirds of the revenue generated. ODF also estimates the work will create 675 primary jobs and 640 secondary jobs in the woods.
But environmentalists argue that post-fire logging increases sedimentation and runoff into streams and rivers, and eliminates habitat for a variety of plant, insect and wildlife species.
”In its drive to generate as much commercial timber volume as possible from the burned out portions of the Santiam State Forest, the department failed to consider strategies to protect these non-commercial timber values in its revised implementation plan,” the lawsuit states.
Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands, said ODF is treating these areas of the forest more like an industrial tree farm, instead of allowing natural regeneration and creating more complex forest structures.
“I think people were pretty disheartened to see the department was targeting areas where they never thought in a thousand years would be logged,” Cady said. “And they’re not supposed to be. They’re supposed to be older, complex forests.”
A spokesman for ODF said the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.
Seth Barnes, director of forest policy for the Oregon Forest and Industries Council — a trade association that represents more than 50 Oregon forestland owners and wood products manufacturers — said the lawsuit is “disappointing,” and reflects an anti-timber agenda rather than a true conservation ethic.
Post-fire logging has several benefits, Barnes said. First, it removes dead standing trees that can burn again in future fires. Second, it can help offset the cost of reforestation, returning green healthy trees to the landscape.
“It’s frustrating there is a segment of the population that would just shut that all down and have these lands stagnated for decades,” Barnes said. “It’s just not the right thing to do.”