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Environmental groups sue to halt post-fire logging in forest

April 15, 2021 GMT

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Seven environmental groups have filed a lawsuit to halt post-fire logging in Santiam State Forest.

The suit filed Wednesday seeks to stop the Oregon Department of Forestry from current logging and bar it from moving forward with timber sales and hazard tree removal across 3,000 acres of state forest burned by September fires around the Santiam Canyon, The Statesman Journal reported.

The groups cited concerns over recreation, drinking water and forest health in asking a Multnomah Circuit Court judge to issue an injunction at an April 30 hearing.

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If successful, all logging would stop until the case was decided. That delay is important because burned and killed trees only remain viable for wood products for a short time, meaning any delay could impact the timber’s market value.

It’s the latest action in an increasingly contentious battle over how to manage the more than 1 million acres of forest burned in the Labor Day fires. Environmental groups say officials are being too aggressive in clearing burned forest that should regenerate naturally. Timber interests highlight turning burned forest into wood products that create jobs and helps communities rebuild.

In the case of the Santiam State Forest, environmentalists are turning to a tried and true tactic — lawsuits — to stop what they view as an overly aggressive harvest.

“Salvage logging the Santiam State Forest will do great damage to spotted owls, struggling salmon populations, water quality and forest recovery,” Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a news release.

Some locals disagreed.

“The plan that was put forward is very responsible and only accounts for a very small percentage of what was burned,” Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron said. “It’s good stewardship to go in and use some of those salvaged logs and put them to use while supporting our community rebuilding efforts.”

The lawsuit specifically targets the North Cascade District 2021 Annual Revised Operations Plan, which would generate around 56.2 million board feet of timber in 2021 — well above the 19 million board feet normally produced by the forest.

The timber sales would pay for reopening and restoration in the forest, the Oregon Department of Forestry said.

The lawsuit says the agency skipped a critical step, required by law, in analyzing forest types and ways to protect values such as fish and wildlife habitat before putting up timber sales.

ODF said it couldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but previously defended the plan as “balanced,” noting that only 3,000 acres of 16,000 acres burned would see any cutting. In addition, they noted the plan prioritizes leaving green (alive) trees uncut while maintaining waterway buffers.