Federal Court Ruling Puts Brakes on Goose Logging Project

E&E by Scott Streater
March 27, 2013

A federal judge has ruled that the Forest Service did not properly analyze the environmental impacts of a proposed 2,100-acre logging project on national forestland in western Oregon, drawing cheers from conservation groups that strongly opposed the project.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene, Ore., late yesterday issued a 28-page ruling directing the Forest Service to go back to the drawing board and conduct a full-blown environmental impact statement (EIS) that analyzes the short-term and cumulative impacts of the project on the Willamette National Forest and nearby landscapes, as well as the federally threatened northern spotted owl.

Aiken's ruling was prompted by a lawsuit filed last year by Portland-based Oregon Wild and Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands that challenged the Forest Service authorization of the Goose logging project. Among other things, the groups argued that the service should have conducted a more detailed EIS and that the environmental analysis the service did conduct inadequately evaluated potential impacts to the forest and sensitive wildlife species, as well as a nearby 9,700-acre area identified as potential wilderness.

Failure to develop an EIS violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the groups claim in the lawsuit. And Aiken agreed in her decision, ruling that "the Forest Service is enjoined from going forward with the Goose Project until an EIS has been prepared."

The two environmental groups and some nearby residents in McKenzie Bridge, Ore., who collected nearly 5,000 signatures opposed to the logging project, hailed the ruling.

"The judge's decision that the Goose logging sale is illegal is vindication for the concerns of local residents and conservationists," said Susan Jane Brown, a Portland-based attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, which represented the two environmental groups in the case.

"The McKenzie River and surrounding forests is too important to our community, and to the people of Oregon, to allow this kind of unwise logging project to go forward," she added.

It is now up to the Forest Service to decide what to do. The service could appeal the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco; go forward and conduct an EIS, which could take years to complete; or scrap the project entirely.

Larry Chambers, a Forest Service spokesman in Washington, D.C., did not respond to requests for comment this afternoon.

The Forest Service had already entered into contracts with Lyons, Ore.-based Freres Lumber Co. Inc. to conduct the logging work and with Eugene-based Seneca Sawmill Co. to process the timber, said Scott Horngren, a Portland-based attorney representing the two companies.

Freres Lumber and Seneca Sawmill intervened in the lawsuit on the side of the Forest Service.

Horngren said the judge's ruling frustrates his clients.

"We're disappointed with the ruling and that the delay of the several contracts that were sold is going to be a blow to the purchasers of those timber sales," Horngren said.

He said he hopes the Forest Services decides sooner rather than later whether to appeal the court order or conduct an EIS.

Opponents of the logging project hope the project is now dead.

"While there are some restorative components to this project such as thinning in dense young stands, the Forest Service chose to pair them with aggressive logging in mature forest near streams, threatened species habitat and within a potential wilderness area," said Josh Laughlin, campaign director for Cascadia Wildlands. "It is imperative the Forest Service focus on restoring what has been damaged by past mismanagement and abuse and move away from controversial projects that make conditions worse in the forest."

Streater writes from Colorado Springs, Colo.