Update on the 21″ Screens

The Forest Service Slashes Protections for Large Trees in Eastern Oregon and Southwestern Washington, Threatening Wildlife Habitats and Old Forest Across the Region

Under pressure from the outgoing Trump administration to increase logging, the Forest Service has slashed protections for large trees on National Forests in Eastern Oregon. On January 15th, 2021, the United States Forest Service a signed a Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact for the “Forest Management Direction for Large Diameter Trees in Eastern Oregon and Southeastern Washington” project, approving the amendment of land management plans for six national forests, spanning millions of acres. The amendment essentially cancels the “Eastside Screens”, a provision prohibiting the harvest of trees larger than 21 inches in diameter on the Deschutes, Ochoco, Fremont-Winema, Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests. The Eastside Screens have protected large and old trees in the Pacific Northwest for nearly 30 years. Created to address the dearth of Old Growth forest structure caused by years of destructive logging practices, the Eastside Screens are a vital tool for the protection of public forests. Although the Forest Service has previously attempted to avoid the Eastside Screens protections using illegal site-specific plan amendments, and been stopped by the courts from doing so, the Forest Service has now finally moved to end those protections entirely so it can pursue its goal of increasing commercial logging and especially the logging of the most commercially valuable large and old trees. The agency’s decision to roll back protections for large trees on these forests poses a direct threat to old forests, wildlife habitats, and biodiversity in the region, and will increase carbon emissions and exacerbate the negative ecological impacts of climate change.

This decision, issued in the final days of the Trump administration, was rushed through illegally, without adequate public process. While most federal projects have three public comment periods, the agency provided only one opportunity for the public to submit written comments on this massive decision affecting millions of acres. The agency claims that because the decision was signed by Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, it is not subject to the objection process. However, only plans proposed by the Under Secretary are not subject to objections, per 36 CFR 219.51(b). This project was not proposed by the Under Secretary, the Responsible Official listed is Ochoco Forest Supervisor Shane Jefferies. Furthermore, the agency’s own early pre-decision notices state directly and repeatedly that the action would be subject to an objection process.

This illegal decision is a fusion of longstanding Forest Service goals and the forest policies of the Trump administration. For the last four years, the Forest Service has pursued increasingly aggressive logging practices that ignore both the law and science. The ecological realities on the ground have not changed since the 21” Screens were implemented. There is still a deficit of large trees on the landscape in eastern Oregon. The 21” Screens have only been in place for 25 years, and so trees across the landscape have had very limited time in which to become larger and begin to ameliorate this deficit. Many species of wildlife, such as Pileated woodpeckers and American marten, depend on large trees for their survival. Logging large trees will further threaten old-growth dependent and imperiled species. Furthermore, it is imperative that we increase carbon sequestration and retain large trees and mature forests, which store the most carbon. The agency’s decision to roll back protections for large trees is exactly the wrong direction for addressing climate change.

The Forest Service does not have any evidence that increased logging of large trees will benefit wildlife or mimic the natural processes that forests depend upon, or result in the forest conditions the agency claims. There is, however, considerable and well-documented evidence that suggests that increased logging of large trees is likely to result in long-term and irreparable harm to wildlife, ecosystem processes, biodiversity, and water quality.

The decision to cancel the objection period for the amendment decision is a blow against the protection of our public lands. The large, old trees protected by the Eastside Screens are the backbone of iconic Old Growth habitats, essential to wildlife, recreationists, and our climate.  Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project condemns this action and is committed to opposing this illegal amendment, the timber grabs it will foster, and the ecological destruction that will result.

The decision to slash protections for large trees needs to be withdrawn immediately. The Forest Service needs to consider a holistic ecosystems plan that prioritizes protecting old and mature forests, wildlife habitat and connectivity, roadless areas, and water quality. The rollback of the Screens poses immense threats to big and old trees and mature forests on six National Forests, as well as the threat of exacerbating the global climate crisis. The US Forest Service is not looking at the big picture of forest ecology, choosing to ignore science and public input in the pursuit of increasing timber sales.

Take action! Call or email Senator Jeff Merkley’s office to ask that he takes a stand and fights for the protection of large trees in Oregon. Ask Senator Merkley work with the incoming Biden administration to withdraw the Trump administrations move to gut protections for big and old trees. Large trees and old growth forests need more protection, not more logging! Do not eliminate protections for large trees on public lands in eastern Oregon!

BMBP will continue to keep the public informed on the Screens, and threats to Oregon’s forests. Sign up for our action alerts to get the latest information, and to receive instructions on actions you can take to protect our ecosystem!

Form to email Senator Jeff Merkley: https://www.merkley.senate.gov/contact/
Merkley’s Portland Office #: (503) 326-3386
Merkley’s Eugene Office #: (541) 465-6750

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