A broad coalition of conservation groups today filed a legal challenge to stop a controversial logging project that destroys more of Oregon’s dwindling old-growth forests and threatens endangered wildlife.
The legal challenge comes a day after U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited Oregon for forest policy talks. The groups are taking aim at a faulty federal decision to allow logging on the Spencer Creek Project—a project of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency that Salazar oversees.
The Spencer Creek Project proposes to log 1,084 acres of prime owl habitat. The logging will take place within 6 known owl territories and will reduce owl habitat in 2 of these territories below levels where owls can survive.
“With Secretary Salazar in Oregon to contemplate the future of our forests, we want him to hear loud and clear that his agency should get itself out of the old-growth logging business,” said George Sexton who reviewed the Spencer Creek Project for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “The BLM in southern Oregon is a roadblock to progress right now.”
The Spencer Creek Project was prepared in the wake of the Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR), a Bush administration initiated proposal that called for a drastic increase in old-growth logging on BLM lands in western Oregon. Recognizing that the plan was legally indefensible, Salazar withdrew the WOPR in July of 2009. BLM received nearly 30,000 public comments on the WOPR, the vast majority opposed to any effort to increasing clear-cutting but supportive of efforts to move forward with common sense restoration projects.
Conservation groups had hoped that the cancellation of the WOPR would serve as a wake-up call to the BLM’s district offices that had pushed for a return to widespread logging in old-growth groves and along important rivers and streams. But the Spencer Creek Project is a throw-back to the cut and run logging days of the 1980s. Before the northern spotted owl was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1990 and prior to the adoption of the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994, logging projects consistently destroyed habitat for threatened species and muddied important salmon streams. Only a fraction of the original old-growth forests needed by the owl to survive remain throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“The agency admits that this timber sale will harm owls locally, but dismisses the habitat lost when compared to the entire territory of owls in the Pacific Northwest,” said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles. “It’s classic death-by-a-thousand cuts reasoning, and it’s why we’re continuing to lose our old-growth forests.”
“The spotted owl continues to decline throughout nearly all of its range,” said Susan Jane Brown, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, who is representing the conservation groups. “In the Spencer Creek Project, the federal government has failed to implement measures that would turn around the owl’s decline and put the species on the path to recovery.”
The transition to science-based forest management outlined in the Northwest Forest Plan has been easier for some federal lands managers than for others. Many national forests in Oregon have refocused planning efforts towards non-controversial restoration based projects that enhance the resiliency of the forest while providing jobs and wood products. Among forest managers, the BLM has struggled to modernize.
“A 21st century plan for forest management in Oregon starts with meaningful protections for our old-growth forests in Oregon,” said Doug Heiken with Oregon Wild. “We must ensure that our laws translate into actual on-the-ground protections so that we can pass on our forest legacy to future generations.”
The case was filed by Earthjustice and Western Environmental Law Center on behalf of Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild, and Cascadia Wildlands.