Forest Service to log old growth fir forest around Walton Lake in the Ochoco National Forest

US Forest Service will proceed with logging old growth fir forest around Walton Lake in the Ochoco National Forest

Tom Buchele with old growth fir at Walton Lake

September 28th, 2023

The US Forest Service announced it will begin logging the old growth fir forest around Walton Lake starting October 1st, 2023. Walton Lake is located in the Ochoco Mountains in central Oregon, northeast of Prineville. The Lake is one of the most popular recreation areas on the Ochoco National Forest, and is known for its old growth trees, abundant wildlife, and scenic beauty.

The Walton Lake timber sale authorizes clearcutting of all the fir trees, including very large and old firs, on approximately 35 acres. The sale also includes an additional 43 acres of logging in mature and old forests that form the scenic backdrop of the lake and provide important habitat for wildlife.

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project (BMBP), represented by Tom Buchele at Earthrise Law Center, and Jesse Buss and Bridgett Chevallier at Willamette Law Group, have fought to stop logging of the forest around Walton Lake since 2015. The Forest Service has repeatedly attempted to log this ecologically important forest in three related and virtually identical proposals over the past several years. BMBP and its dedicated attorneys successfully stopped the agency’s first two proposals to log around Walton Lake.

Unfortunately, a Ninth Circuit Court panel sided with the agency in August of 2023, giving the green light to the Forest Service to start logging. The panel’s decision allowed the agency to omit key information from the judicial record, including evidence that had been crucial in BMBP’s previous victories in getting the project withdrawn. BMBP is in the process of appealing the decision at the Ninth Circuit. However, the Forest Service may begin logging the sale before the case is able to be considered for rehearing.

While the Forest Service has repeatedly characterized this timber sale as “thinning” to the public, BMBP’s initial lawsuit showed that an internal Forest Service document described the logging of the old growth fir forest as a “clearcut”. In addition, recent examples of Forest Service “thinning” include clearcutting and old growth logging as part of sale implementation. For example, BMBP has documented recent examples of very heavy logging, including clearcutting and logging of large and old trees, within sale units characterized by the agency as “thinning” timber sales such as Camp Lick and Big Mosquito in the Malheur National Forest.

The Forest Service is using public safety as a guise for old growth logging in the Walton Lake sale. The agency claims that logging is needed to eliminate root rot that is supposedly creating a public safety problem, even though many of the targeted firs are not currently infected and are nowhere near the Walton Lake campsites or roads. The agency is planning to essentially clearcut the old growth and predominately fir forest around the lake because some of the firs have laminated root rot, as they have for decades. Such heavy logging is unnecessary since the Forest Service has the ongoing ability to fell legitimate roadside and campground hazard trees, and has been using this method to protect public safety for many years. BMBP has no objection to legitimate hazard tree felling. BMBP’s legal challenges have never impeded the Forest Service’s ability to conduct legitimate hazard tree felling.

“The Forest Service is misleading the public about the nature of planned logging and the supposed ‘need’ to log large old trees. This is about getting the cut out, not about public safety” said Paula Hood, BMBP’s Co-Director.

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 the Eastern Oregon Cascades.

Earthrise Law Center is the domestic environmental law clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School that provides legal training for future public interest lawyers and pro bono legal representation for not-for-profit environmental protection groups like the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project.

Based in Oregon City, the Willamette Law Group represents people defending the natural world and public spaces, including protecting ancient old-growth forests from clear-cut logging, keeping public lands public, supporting biodiversity, and opposing irresponsible development.

Karen Coulter, BMBP’s Director, with old growth Grand fir at Walton Lake