Four environmental groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service to stop a major logging project on the east shoulder of the Mount Hood National Forest near the White River in north-central Oregon.
The complaint, filed by Bark, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands and WildEarth Guardians, claims the 11,742-acre Crystal Clear Restoration Project threatens habitat for endangered species — including a new breeding pair of wolves.
Kameron Sam, district ranger for the Barlow Ranger District on the Mount Hood National Forest, signed off on the project in June to reduce wildfire hazards, provide sustainable timber and boost forest health. It is the largest timber sale in the Mount Hood National Forest in more than a decade, and would roughly double the annual forest-wide timber harvest.
Conservationists, however, take issue with nearly 4,000 acres of commercial logging in old growth forest, which they argue is not in need of environmental restoration and would damage habitat for northern spotted owls. The project would also build nearly 36 miles of temporary roads, spilling sediment into rivers and further fracturing wildlife habitat.
“Removing and rehabilitating unneeded roads would improve watershed health and habitat connectivity, but the Forest Service did not prioritize this type of real restoration work,” said Marla Fox, an attorney for WildEarth Guardians.
Last year, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife confirmed gray wolves for the first time in the White River area in more than 70 years. The agency recently confirmed the pair had at least two pups, spotted by a trail camera on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.
Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands, said impacts of the Crystal Clear project could destabilize the new pack.
“The northern Oregon Cascades are a wilder place with wolves back on the landscape and their presence confirms that habitat in this area is recovering after a century of heavy logging,” Cady said.
According to the lawsuit, the Forest Service failed to adequately analyze the impacts of the project or consider alternatives, as required by law. It alleges Sam, the district ranger, introduced the Crystal Clear project to the Wasco County Forest Collaborative Group in 2016, but would not be developing the project collaboratively.
“Instead, Ranger Sam described the project sale as a ‘straight up timber sale’ with the purpose of creating ‘shelf stock’ of timber to meet Mt. Hood National Forest’s annual timber production target,” the complaint reads.
A spokeswoman for the Mount Hood National Forest said the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.
In its biological opinion of the project, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrote that, while logging is likely to impact spotted owl habitat, it would not “appreciably reduce the likelihood of survival” for the species. The agency also determined the project is not likely to affect wolves, or the threatened Oregon spotted frog.