Cascadia Wildlands volunteers explore the Thurston Hills natural area and proposed "Pedal Power" project (photo courtesy of Michael Sherman).

BLM Attempting to Clearcut Thurston Hills Again Despite Fire Risk to Springfield

For Immediate Release 5/18/2020

Sam Krop, Grassroots Organizer, Cascadia Wildlands, (727) 432-5767, sam@cascwild.org

Nick Cady, Legal Director, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746, nick@cascwild.org

Thurston Hills Timber Sale Moves Forward in Midst of Global Health Crisis Despite Community Opposition

Springfield, OR – In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) made a final decision to move forward with the Thurston Hills timber sale today despite widespread opposition to the project. With 79th Street in Springfield on one side and newly constructed trails on the other, this BLM parcel is the closest federal public land to the Springfield-Eugene urban area and an invaluable recreation area for local residents. The timber sale would result in extensive “regeneration harvest” (all but clear-cutting) of 109 acres of middle-aged forest immediately adjacent to Willamalane’s recently opened 655-acre Thurston Hills Natural Area.

The project is moving forward despite Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild’s successful legal challenge of the sale in Court last year. BLM now admits that logging will increase fire risks and hazards to the adjoining Springfield residences, but the BLM dismisses these risks as insignificant. Not only is this project a threat to community safety, but would also have dramatic impacts on recreation. The BLM has designated areas for trails, but plans to log directly through the newly designated trail buffers, likely preventing the area from becoming the regional running and mountain biking destination that was envisioned and planned for by the cities of Springfield and Eugene.

The approval of this sale in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is part of a broader pattern of Federal agencies taking advantage of a global crisis to remove regulations and green-light extractive projects (see the FERC approval of the proposed Jordan Cove Energy Project). Instead of halting the proposal and permitting of these projects as our nation reels from the impacts of the Corona Virus, the Trump Administration is using it as an opportunity to advance its industry-friendly agenda.

Sue Hartman, an impacted landowner, said:

It is so ugly, heartless, and tragic that the BLM and Seneca still plan on clear-cutting the Thurston Hills forest, starting at 79th Street within the Springfield city limits. If they would compromise and thin the forest instead, it could protect nearby homes from wildfires, landslides and wildlife while maintaining natural habitat, and recreation trails. If this project goes through, the scenic Mackenzie Drive may not be scenic anymore.

Nick Cady, Legal Director with Cascadia Wildlands, said:

The BLM is directly violating the court’s order by moving forward with this sale. Their out-of-hand dismissal of the fire impacts of this project to the City of Springfield and callous disregard for this designated recreation area is completely out of touch with the agency’s obligation to our community, and we will fight them every step of the way.

Doug Heiken, Conservation and Restoration Coordinator with Oregon Wild, said:

A few years ago BLM had the foresight to designate the Thurston Hills as a special recreation area for the enjoyment of Springfield/Eugene residents. Now, just a few years later, BLM’s aggressive logging agenda erases that goodwill by clearcutting over the recreation trails and increasing fire hazard for nearby residents.

Background and Resources:

The BLM first introduced plans to log Thurston Hills in June of 2018, and the plan met immediate community resistance. For the next year, Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild worked with conservation partners, student groups, and Thurston area neighbors to organize public hikes, town hall meetings, and door to door canvassing. Cascadia Wildlands joined Oregon Wild in filing a legal challenge to the sale.

On September 19th 2019, Judge Michael McShane of Oregon’s district court ruled in favor of Cascadia Wildlands and co-plaintiff Oregon Wild, determining that the BLM violated federal laws when it sold off the 100 acres of public land in the Thurston Hills sale for clearcut logging. Siding with conservationists, recreationists and many Thurston Hills residents, the court ruled that clearcut logging would increase risk of wildfire for nearby communities, and that the BLM must adequately disclose those risks in their planning documents. The Court also found that the BLM violated the law when it failed to designate and protect trails in this recreation area.

Read more about the previous campaign here. Find photographs of the sale here. Read the BLM’s EA here. Find the BLM’s Final Decision here.

Cascadia Wildlands is a Eugene-based nonprofit working to defend and restore Cascadia’s wild ecosystems in the forests, in the courts, and in the streets.

###