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Judge shuts down Forest Service logging in Breitenbush area

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

A federal judge has temporarily halted U.S. Forest Service plans to log parts of the Willamette National Forest burned by last year’s wildfires.
The written ruling signed and issued Dec. 27 by U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene comes after Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild sued to stop the logging near Breitenbush Hot Springs. The court heard oral arguments via video conference on Dec. 2.
Aiken’s ruling halts any further logging, pending the resolution of the lawsuit.
The action involves two Willamette National Forest parcels, the Highway 46 area near Breitenbush Hot Springs and the Lang Dam piece in the McKenzie River watershed. The Lionshead Fire burned 27,397 acres out of 31,295 acres the Forest Service set aside for the Highway 46 project. The Holiday Farm Fire, meanwhile, burned 340 of the 468 acres scheduled for treatment in the Lang Dam area.
The environmental groups allege the Forest Service modified logging contracts that were signed before the September 2020 wildfires to include logging fire-charred trees without going through the proper environmental review process. The original contracts were focused on thinning green trees and doing prescribed burns.
“Oregon Wild brought this case to defend the simple proposition that when a wildfire burns through an ongoing timber sale, the Forest Service needs to pump the brakes and involve the public in deciding how to move forward,” Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild said. “That’s not just the law, but also the best way to protect our forests, drinking water, wildlife, carbon, and scenic values.”
In court papers, the Forest Service denied those claims and said it carefully analyzed the logging plans after the fires before deciding to proceed.
The Forest Service prepared a post-fire report that “thoroughly assessed the significance and likely effects of implementing previously-awarded sales after the fire,” the agency said.
“The Forest Service reasonably concluded that (the) project could proceed without significant new effects if it incorporated several implementation modifications,” the agency wrote. “The careful (new) analysis is precisely the type of thorough post-decisional review regulations seek to foster.”
This is the second court action on a wildfire-related logging lawsuit in less than a month.
In November, a different federal judge, Michael McShane, temporarily halted Forest Service plans to log alongside 400 miles of little-used forest roads in another part of the Willamette National Forest within the 2020 fire perimeters. As with the Breitenbush case, the roads litigation, said Judge McShane’s ruling, is not final. That case is likely will be heard in the coming months.

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