Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision Decision Withdrawn in Response to Objections
In an unexpected development, the US Forest Service announced on March 14th, 2019 that they have withdrawn the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision. The objections by Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, other environmental protection organizations, and the Tribes were essentially upheld by the USFS’s withdrawal of their Forest Plan Revision decision.
The Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision was proposed to guide management direction on approximately 5.5 million acres across the Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests for at least a decade. It would have approximately doubled logging, removed current protective Forest Plan standards for streams and water quality, scrapped the prohibition on logging large trees (those ≥21” diameter at breast height), and severely weakened environmental protections regarding livestock grazing. The plan also failed to protect many ecologically important potential Wilderness and Roadless Areas. The plan would have exacerbated many of the negative effects on forests associated with climate change, such as increased stream temperatures and loss of biodiversity.
Earth Rise Law Center submitted the objection to the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision on behalf of Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project and Friends of the Clearwater in August of 2018. This detailed objection included numerous key scientific studies supporting our concerns and challenged ecologically destructive Forest Service assumptions regarding Grand fir and wildfire issues. Objections from Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project and from environmental allies highlighted the Forest Plan Revision’s flawed direction and many legal vulnerabilities of the plan, and likely played a key role in the USFS’s withdrawal of the plan.
“The proposed Forest Plan Revision was legally indefensible, lacking enforceable standards,” explains Karen Coulter, Director of Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project. “Fortunately good standards in the existing Forest Plans, including the Eastside Screen prohibitions against logging large trees and against logging within PACFISH and INFISH stream buffers will be upheld in the interim while the Forest Service goes back to the drawing board. We hope that the future revision will strengthen the mandatory Eastside Screens and PACFISH and INFISH protections rather than gutting them as would have resulted from their withdrawn plan,” she adds.
The existing Forest Plans are very outdated, failing to incorporate best available current science and to account for the effects of climate change to forests and the forests’ role in sequestering carbon to slow catastrophic climate change. Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project will continue to pressure the Forest Service to craft a much more ecologically protective and sustainable Forest Plan for future management guidance.
Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project teamed up with multiple groups and individuals in order to mount a solid defense against the ecologically destructive direction of this new Forest Plan. Tom Buchele and Lia Comerford at Earthrise Law Center provided extensive and detailed work on multiple ecological and legal fronts. Others contributing to our objection included: Melissa Cain and Paul Ruprecht at Western Watersheds Project; Dr. Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute; Marla Fox of Wild Earth Guardians; Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project’s Co-founder, Asante Riverwind; Philip Papajcik, BMBP volunteer and Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild.
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