PENDLETON, Ore. — A federal judge has ruled that a Trump-era rule change allowing logging of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest violates multiple laws.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hallman ruled on Thursday that the U.S. Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Stewardship Act and the Endangered Species Act by amending a protection in force since 1994.
The findings follow legal action by several environmental groups over the change.
Hallman recommended that the Forest Service’s environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact be reversed and that the agency be required to prepare a full environmental impact statement related to the change.
“The highly uncertain effects of this project, considered in light of its massive scope and setting, raise important questions about whether this project will have a significant effect on the environment,” Hallman wrote.
The Forest Service did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. The agency has two weeks to object to the judge’s findings and recommendations.
The Trump administration’s amended protection prohibited the harvesting of trees 21 inches (53 centimeters) or more in diameter and instead emphasized maintaining a mix of trees, with trees at least 150 years being a priority for protection and favoring fire-tolerant species.
The area affected by the rule spans at least 7 million acres (2.8 million hectares), roughly the size of the state of Maryland, across six national forests in eastern Oregon. and southeastern Washington State.
The Trump administration said the change, which took effect in 2021, would make forests “more resilient and more resilient to disturbances such as wildfires.”
“We seek to create landscapes that resist and recover more quickly from wildfires, drought and other disturbances,” Ochoco National Forest Supervisor Shane Jeffries told the Times at the time. Oregon Public Broadcasting. “We are not looking to remove all the tall fir and silver fir trees from the forests.”
The lawsuit, however, says the government’s environmental assessment did not sufficiently consider the scientific uncertainty surrounding the effectiveness of thinning, especially of large trees, in reducing fire risk. The groups said thinning and cutting down large trees can actually increase the severity of fires.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Pendleton, Oregon, also claims there is overwhelming evidence that tall trees play a critical role in maintaining biodiversity and mitigating climate change and that the Eastern Oregon lacks these trees after “more than a century of high-quality logging.” “.
The Greater Hells Canyon Council, Oregon Wild, Central Oregon LandWatch, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, WildEarth Guardians and Sierra Club were all plaintiffs in the lawsuit with support from the Nez Perce Tribe.
Rob Klavins, an Oregon Wild advocate based in rural Wallowa County, said in a press release that he hopes the Forest Service takes this decision to heart and called on the Biden administration to stop advocating for change. of Trump-era rule.
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing federal land managers to identify threats to older trees, such as wildfires and climate change, and develop policies to protect them.
As the Forest Service “returns to the drawing board, we expect them to meaningfully engage all members of the public to create a lasting solution,” Klavins said.