Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project sues the Forest Service to protect large trees and threatened steelhead in the Malheur National Forest
On July 12th, 2021, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project filed suit against the United States Forest Service to stop the illegal logging of large trees and to protect threatened fish habitat in the Camp Lick Project in the Malheur National Forest.
The Camp Lick sale includes commercial logging on about 12,000 acres in the Blue Mountains Ranger District of the Malheur National Forest. The Forest Service plans to log some of the last remaining large trees in the area, including streamside trees that shade and provide critical habitat for threatened steelhead.
The Camp Lick Project relies on the illegal use of site-specific Forest Plan amendments as a loophole to log large trees. The Forest Service has repeatedly attempted to side-step their own regulations through the illegal use of site-specific Forest plan amendments. In a 2014 lawsuit filed by BMBP (LOWD/BMBP v. Connaughton), a District Court ruled against the agency’s use of this practice, and determined that the agency was violating existing standards.
The Camp Lick timber sale is one of a series of large, back-to-back sales in the Malheur National Forest. Taken together, the Camp Lick project and neighboring projects contain over 50,000 acres of commercial logging in recent, current, and proposed timber sales. Many of these sales include large tree logging, and several of include thinning within designated streamside corridors. The Forest Service should have conducted a thorough analysis of potential impacts to the environment, including to imperiled fish and wildlife, by publishing an Environmental Impact Statement.
Despite the enormity of these sales and their potential for widespread and damaging environmental consequences, the Forest Service failed to conduct an adequate cumulative impacts analyses for species such as Mid-Columbia River steelhead, which are listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency also did not consider the combined sum of all the affected habitat in all of these back-to-back sales. Shockingly, it appears that approximately one third of Mid-Columbia River steelhead in the Malheur NF may be harmed by logging in these back-to-back timber sales.
Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project’s Co-Director, Paula Hood expressed her disappointment regarding the Camp Lick project: “Instead of engaging in larger ecosystem planning with a holistic view, the Forest Service is narrowly focused on logging. Large trees are critical for supporting wildlife, water quality, and for carbon storage. Large trees remain at a deficit on the landscape, and so every large tree out there is important right now. Especially given the climate and biodiversity loss emergencies we are facing, these biological legacy trees need to be protected, not logged.”
Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project participated in every stage of the Forest Service’s administrative process for the Camp Lick sale since the sale’s inception. Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project’s staff and volunteers extensively field surveyed the sale, and provided on-the-ground, detailed, and site-specific feedback and recommendations on commercial sale units and streamside corridor thinning throughout the sale. The Camp Lick Project’s illegal administrative process is in part a result of the Forest Service’s continued effort to evade the 21 Inch Screens. BMBP stands against this abuse of our public lands and the laws that govern their use, and ready to safeguard the ecosystems and values that intact forests provide to people and wildlife.
The Forest Plans that guide management on National Forests in eastern Oregon had, until very recently, prohibited logging of large trees (those ≥21-inch diameter at breast height) under most circumstances. The prohibition was put into place in the mid-90’s because of the well-documented deficit of large trees across the landscape due to past logging and mismanagement. Numerous wildlife species depend on large trees and old forests for habitat, including American marten, Vaux’s swifts, Pileated woodpeckers, Black bears, numerous bird species, and bats. The standards which protected large trees—known as the 21 Inch Screens– were rolled back during the final days of the Trump administration. However, the 21 Inch Screens still apply to the Camp Lick sale, as it was planned while the rules were still in place.
Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project is represented by Tom Buchele at Earthrise Law Center and Staff Attorney Cooper Rodgers. Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project is a grassroots ecological protection group based in Eastern Oregon that monitors and challenges agency actions in order to protect the Ochoco, Deschutes, Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests.