Press Release: March 17, 2015
Contact: Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746
Judge Rejects "Eco-Forestry" Clearcutting on O&C Lands
Controversial "variable retention regeneration harvest" clearcuts in White Castle timber sale declared illegal; conservationists win on all counts.
A US District Court judge has ruled in favor of conservation groups Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands in their legal challenge of a controversial clearcut logging project on public lands in Douglas County. At stake in the case was the Bureau of Land Management’s “White Castle” logging project which proposed clearcutting 160 aces of 100-year old trees using a controversial methodology developed by Drs. Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson referred to as “variable retention regeneration harvest” sometimes referred to as “eco-forestry.” In her ruling, Judge Ann Aiken found that the BLM’s environmental review fell far short of fully considering the full range of harm that could result from clearcutting.
“This ruling proves that BLM can’t just re-name a clearcut something else and then expect it to suddenly be acceptable,” said Sean Stevens, Executive Director of Oregon Wild. “The White Castle timber sale was a test to see if eco-forest clearcutting could pass legal muster or public scrutiny, and it failed.”
Attorney Jennifer Schwartz argued on behalf of the conservation plaintiffs and repeatedly highlighted the scientific dispute surrounding the project and “variable retention harvest,” especially its implementation in older forests and spotted owl critical habitat. The Court ultimately determined that “The [spotted owl’s] Recovery Plan, the [spotted owl’s] critical habitat proposal, comments from the public and scientists, and Franklin and Johnson's own reports demonstrated the existence of ‘a substantial dispute’ casting ‘serious doubt upon the reasonableness’ of BLM's decision to harvest forest stands over 80 years old.”
By the BLM’s own admission, the White Castle sale was intended as a prototype for greatly expanding clearcutting on other BLM O&C lands, a factor that weighed heavily in the judge’s ruling. The judge found the precedential nature of the project worthy of greater scrutiny: “Project materials describe the pilot projects as test of new harvest methods and ‘new policies’ that could supplant BLM's current ‘risk-adverse strategy’ of avoiding regeneration harvesting and other ‘active management’ methods. Approval of the White Castle Project will not have binding impact on future projects, but it will, by design, shape BLM forestry methods and strategies moving forward.
“The scariest part of this project was its potential to set the tone for logging across 2 million acres of Western Oregon BLM,” said Nick Cady, Legal Director of Cascadia Wildlands. “The project was mired in scientific uncertainty and was the obvious result of political pressure to bail out county politicians by returning clearcutting to our public forests. I hope this ruling convinces the BLM to revisit its intentions for our public lands.”
The proposed timber sale lies within publicly-owned forest in the South Myrtle Creek watershed, near the community of Canyonville. The Roseburg BLM District proposed the controversial “eco-forestry” logging method as justification to clearcut over 187 acres, including 160 acres of trees over a century old.
Bulldozing roads and other destructive activities associated with the project would also have targeted additional trees over 150 years old. Federal biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have acknowledged nearly 200 acres of habitat for threatened wildlife would be damaged or destroyed by the logging. In her ruling, the judge found the likely effects of this clearcutting to require the BLM to conduct a much more rigorous environmental analysis than they have done thus far.
Despite the fact that BLM has been largely meeting its timber targets for the last 15 years, primarily through non-controversial thinning of young forests, the agency has recently pursued more controversial projects as a way to increase logging. BLM claimed that clearcutting the White Castle forest would benefit the environment by removing mature trees in order to favor shrubs and brush, even though such habitat is not rare like old forest. As part of the same planning process, Roseburg BLM carried out a similar and related clearcutting project in younger forests, known as Buck Rising. Conservationists did not challenge the Buck Rising project in court but they were not pleased with the results.
“BLM claims that since they intend to retain a few patches of standing trees , it isn't really a clearcut,” said Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild . “Anyone who has seen the aftermath of logging at Buck Rising would have a difficult time explaining the difference between acres of stumps and rutted earth created by eco-forestry and those created by old style clearcutting.”
A copy of the legal decision can be found here.
Photos of the White Castle forest can be found here. (please credit to Francis Eatherington)
Photos from the BLM's Buck Rising clearcuts can be found here. (please credit to Francis Eatherington)