Environmentalists want to stop a 9,000-acre timber project in Southern Oregon that will allegedly allow logging in threatened spotted owl habitat contrary to federal laws.

The North Landscape project, which was approved by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Lakeview District last year, is expected to generate 111 million board-feet of lumber.

Several environmental groups — Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands and Soda Mountain Wilderness Council — have filed a lawsuit to overturn the project for allegedly violating the National Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedures Act.

“In its haste to increase timber harvest on an extremely fragmented landscape, the Lakeview BLM has unlawfully elevated timber volume production over ecological considerations such as wildfire risk and at-risk species conservation,” the complaint said.

A representative of the BLM’s Lakeview District did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

According to the complaint, nearly 7,000 acres of the project area that have been slated for thinning or clear-cutting are within the designated critical habitat of the Northern spotted owl, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The project area contains five sites that are occupied by the spotted owl and the birds will be extirpated from these areas, while the BLM also plans to log seven unoccupied sites that could be inhabited in the future, the complaint said.

“Northern spotted owls are not expected to recolonize the area until suitable habitat develops in 120 years,” the environmental plaintiffs claim.

In its environmental assessment of the project, BLM concluded that the harvest level has already been studied and approved under a resource management plan for the area and won’t have additional adverse impacts on the species.

Also, a “biological opinion” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the project is “not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the northern spotted owl or result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.”

However, the BLM didn’t study the “direct, indirect or cumulative effects" of the project, such as more barred owls that compete with the species, increased wildfire risk or the unique ecological features of the area, which is near the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, the complaint said.

The environmental plaintiffs have asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke in Medford, Ore., to enjoin the BLM and its contractors from implementing the project and to vacate its approval.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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