BMBP Sues the Forest Service to Protect Large Trees

BMBP’s filed suit against the US Forest Service on the South Warner sale in the Fremont-Winema National Forest:

Dee with old growth fir in the South Warner sale (Fremont-Winema NF)

On October 6th, 2022, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project filed suit against the United States Forest Service to stop the illegal logging of large trees in the South Warner project in the Lakeview District of the Fremont-Winema National Forest. You can see BMBP’s press release here

The Forest Service is planning to commercially log approximately 16,000 acres in the South Warner sale. The sale includes the logging of large trees, defined as those ≥21” diameter at breast height, with the agency relying on the illegal rollback of protections for large trees that took place during the final days of the Trump administration.

Pileated woodpeckers rely on large trees, and are associated with mature and old growth mixed-conifer forests (Crow sale, Malheur NF).

Key protections for large trees were rolled back under the Trump Administration:

Previously, Forest Plans that guided management on National Forests in eastern Oregon and southeastern Washington prohibited logging of large trees in 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 over-logging and mismanagement.

Goshawk in the Crow sale (Malheur NF). Goshawks are associated with dense, multi-storied forest canopies.

In a rushed and illegal process that circumvented public participation, the Forest Service eliminated meaningful protections for large trees on approximately 11 million acres across six National Forests: the Deschutes, Ochoco, Malheur, Umatilla, Wallowa-Whitman, and Fremont-Winema National Forests. 

Over 115 scientists spoke out against the rollback of protections for large trees. Over 30 organizations, including wildlife, conservation, Indigenous, public health, and climate groups, raised concerns about the agency process and rule changes.

Black bear cub in the Bellwether sale (Ochoco NF). Black bears and many other species rely on large trees for needed habitat.

Included in the Trump-era changes to the previous protections is the change from an enforceable standard that clearly prohibited the logging of most large trees, to a discretionary guideline that focuses on retaining some old and large trees. Guidelines inherently provide more discretion to the agencies implementing them, ultimately making federal agencies like the Forest Service less accountable to the people whose forests they are required to protect and manage to provide habitat for all native species.

BMBP volunteer with an old growth Ponderosa pine that was cut down in the Big Mosquito sale (Malheur NF). Large trees need more protections, not less.

Why does it matter?

For over 25 years, the prohibition on logging large trees has been crucial for wildlife, water quality, and carbon storage. Large trees are at a well-documented deficit across the landscape in eastern Oregon and southeastern Washington, due to 150 years of over-logging and mismanagement. 

Decades of over-logging across the region has depleted forests of big and old trees that provide key wildlife habitat, and harmed streams and imperiled fish. Numerous wildlife species depend on large trees for habitat, including American marten, Vaux’s swifts, Pileated woodpeckers, Black bears, numerous bird species, bats, and native trout and salmon. 

Large old growth Ponderosa pines cut down in the Camp Lick sale (Malheur NF). Lack of public oversight will result in even more destructive logging.

Large trees also store immense amounts of carbon, keeping greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere and helping to fight climate change and ameliorate its effects. Scientists have found that large trees store significantly and disproportionately more carbon than smaller trees. East of the Cascades, these large trees account for roughly 3% of all trees on our National Forests, yet store approximately 42% of the above ground carbon. 

Heavy logging, including logging of large trees, in the Camp Lick sale (Malheur NF). The rollback of protections for large trees will make it even easier for the Forest Service to log big trees in old and mature forests.

The Forest Service is targeting large trees for logging on National Forests in Eastern Oregon. Such logging removes the most fire-resistant trees and makes forests more dry and fire-prone, and threatens biodiversity across the landscape. The agency is increasingly targeting mature and old mixed-conifer forests, which are a natural and historically significant part of the ecology of eastern Oregon and southeastern Washington.

The illegal Trump-era amendment authorizes the Forest Service to log large trees with less accountability, further threatening ecosystems on eastside forests. Large trees in these forests and across the region need protecting now more than ever.

BMBP volunteers with large fir in the Upper Touchet sale (Umatilla NF). This sale includes the planned logging of large trees.

What is BMBP’s litigation about?

BMBP’s legal challenge addresses both the Trump-era amendment to the Fremont-Winema Forest Plan as well as the South Warner project itself, which relies on that amendment to log large Grand and White fir trees up to 30” diameter at breast height. Public participation is a vital aspect of the Forest Plan amendment process under the National Forest Management Act, and the Service’s illegal circumvention of these requirements only serves to stymie the public’s right to comment on and object to the scientifically controversial management of their National Forests.

Previously thinned forest in the Fremont-Winema NF. Logging created an unnaturally open and homogenous forest, which did not prevent serious tree mortality from fire. Burned forests provide important wildlife habitat, but logging before fire can severely degrade or destroy unique and sensitive post-fire habitats.

In the South Warner Project, the Forest Service is trying to implement an illegal amendment that was rushed through without adequate public review or environmental analysis. In particular, the agency failed to take into account the impact that widespread logging of large trees would have on the environment. 

Despite our legal challenge being based on procedural grounds, the Forest Service’s procedural violations in approving this amendment have real consequences. These violations deprived the public of their legal right to comment on and object to the 2021 amendment’s draft decision notice, which, despite their assurances otherwise, the Forest Service published alongside significant additions to their analysis that the public did not get a chance to independently review. That means the Forest Service is currently applying an illegal guideline that allows them to cut large trees without having considered the voices of concerned local citizens and independent scientists.

Tom Buchele with large old growth fir in the Walton Lake sale (Ochoco NF). This sale plans to extensively log large and old trees, including essentially clearcutting an old growth fir forest adjacent to Walton Lake.

Who is representing BMBP in litigation?

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project is represented by Tom Buchele at Earthrise Law Center and Austin Starnes, BMBP’s Staff Attorney. Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project is a grassroots ecological protection group based in Eastern Oregon that monitors and challenges agency actions in order to protect public lands on the Blue Mountains and Eastern Oregon Cascades.


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