Urgent: Pacific Northwest Old Growth, Endangered Species in Danger

In a 25-page dissent, Judge Paez of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals explained why the Forest Service’s controversial old growth logging project in the Five Buttes area of the Deschutes National Forest should be stopped. The Forest Service proposes to authorize commercial logging in an old growth reserve within the Five Buttes.
In his dissent, Paez quotes one of our nation’s greatest conservationists, John Muir: “It took more than three thousand years to make some of these trees in the Western woods, — trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty …. God has cared for these trees … but he cannot save them from fools, — only Uncle Sam can do that.” Until recently, the 9th Circuit has been Uncle Sam’s voice of reason, protecting our old growth forests from arbitrary decisions by the Forest Service.
I am a conservation advocate for the group League of Wilderness Defenders – Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project. We challenged the proposal to log the Five Buttes old growth and won an injunction from Judge Hogan stopping the project. But two judges on a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed Judge Hogan, authorizing the project to go forward.
For citizens who value our National Forests, the law and the courts have been one of our strongest checks against government abuse. With the passage of the Northwest Forest Plan, the government set aside large forest reserves in western Oregon, Washington and California. Generally, the courts have sent a clear signal to the Forest Service regarding the management of these lands: disclose the best available science, consider alternatives to logging, limit commercial activity in old growth reserves, and disclose and avoid impacts on roadless areas.
But recently the court has split, and its message to the Forest Service regarding our National Forests is far from clear. The courts are in conflict over the scientific standards used by the Forest Service to justify its management actions in old growth forests. Does the agency have to act in accord with scientific reason and pursue what is in the best interest of the people and our forest ecosystems? Or is mere lip service to the scientific requirements of the law sufficient justification to log?
In its decision on Five Buttes project, the court decided that the agency could act on outdated and incomplete data. In his strongly worded dissent, Judge Paez explained that while the court usually defers to an agency’s scientific methodology, the Forest Service’s decision to log the Five Buttes was plainly, “nonsensical.”
In his earlier decision, Judge Hogan found that the agency’s logging plan would degrade the forest for decades and that the agency did not support its claim that logging would reduce fire risk with scientific evidence. And yet Paez’s collegues, Judges Tallman and Smith allowed the Forest Service to proceed.
The agency will aggressively log old growth forest and sensitive Spotted owl habitat in the name of forest preservation. The Forest Service claims that logging will save the owl habitat from wildfire, but admits that these logged forests will no longer provide suitable Spotted owl habitat.
Wildfire is a natural part of these ecosystems. Fire does not destroy these forests, and for Spotted owls, studies show that fire is beneficial, that burned forests make good hunting habitat for the owls. While the risk of a catastrophic fire in the Five Buttes is currently unknown, the effect of logging, is certain. The Forest Services logging plan will significantly degrade the Five Buttes old growth ecosystem.
Local citizens and volunteers with the Sierra Club, Cascadia Wildlands Project and the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project spent years field checking the sale. These groups worked with local citizens to approach the Forest Service and ask them to modify the controversial plan, but the agency moved ahead without compromise.
The Five Buttes is a majestic old growth forest near Davis Lake and Wickiup Reservoir, an area visited and enjoyed by many Oregonians. The logging project targets some of the most diverse old growth forests I have personally witnessed in the Pacific Northwest. This area is home to old growth Shasta Red fir, old growth Sugar pine, and old growth White pine as well as Douglas fir and Grand fir. Logging this forest will destroy the beauty of this area for our lifetimes and for those of our children and grandchildren.
Without the scientific justification required by law, the Forest Service will cut the Five Buttes old growth in an area where the Spotted owl has been in steady decline. The destruction of significant nesting and roosting habitat is likely to drive the species further towards extinction.
The protection of our old growth and endangered species ensures the viability of many other species with similar habitat needs. Ultimately, by protecting these forest ecosystems we are protecting ourselves, since forest reduction hastens climate change and makes its effects more catastrophic for biodiversity, community stability, and local economies. Mother nature does not suffer fools lightly.
Karen Coulter, Director
Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project
Fossil, Oregon
(541) 385-9167
League of Wilderness Defenders v. Allen, 615 F.3d 1122 (9th Cir. 2010)

Posted in News.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.