Environmentalist lawsuit targets post-fire
An environmental group claims the U.S.
Forest Service unlawfully approved the removal of hazard
trees burned last year in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National
The Klamath Forest Alliance has filed
a lawsuit accusing the agency of improperly “categorically
excluding” the Slater Fire Safe Re-entry Project from
The complaint alleges that logging
trees along 146 miles of roadsides without an “environmental
assessment” or a more rigorous “environmental impact
statement” violates the National Environmental Policy Act.
The project is expected to generate
about 30 million board-feet of timber — enough to fill 6,000
logging trucks — which is larger than intended for a
“categorical exclusion” based on “repair and maintenance,”
the plaintiff said.
“The Forest Service has failed to
articulate a rational explanation as to why such a major
‘salvage’ logging project constitutes ‘road repair and
maintenance’ such that the Forest Service may avoid
preparation of an EIS or even an EA,” according to the
The Slater Fire erupted in September
2020 and spread over 157,000 acres, including about 65,000
acres in the national forest, whose nearly 1.8 million acres
straddles the Oregon-California border.
The project authorizes removing trees
that are not only dead, but those which have a potential to
fall onto roads within five years, the complaint said. Under
the standards used by the Forest Service, “many trees that
the project authorizes for felling pose no immediate
More recent guidelines for assessing
post-fire tree status also predict fewer trees will die
based on crown scorch than the standards applied by the
agency, the plaintiff claims.
Most of the damaged trees in the
project area will be removed, eliminating more than 1,000
acres of post-fire snag habitat for the threatened northern
spotted owl and disturbing the ecosystem more severely than
leaving the logs in place, the complaint said.
Even though the Forest Service
acknowledges the treatment is “likely to adversely affect”
the spotted owl, it hasn’t consulted with other agencies on
the impacts, as required under the Endangered Species Act,
according to the plaintiffs.
The project also authorizes logging
more than 2,000 acres of “late succession reserves” that
would normally be protected under the Northwest Forest Plan,
the complaint said. The ecological role of dead and dying
trees must be considered in such reserves.
Klamath Forest Alliance alleges that
“categorical exclusions” do not apply to “a commercial
logging project of this scale, involving the removal of tens
of thousands of trees.” The adverse effect on spotted owls
is an “extraordinary circumstance” that warrants
environmental analysis, the plaintiff said.
The Forest Service failed to explain
how logging in late successional reserves is consistent with
the National Forest Management Act, the complaint said. The
plaintiff may also pursue an Endangered Species Act claim
after the required 60-day notice period.
The plaintiff has asked a federal
judge to overturn the project’s approval and prohibit its
implementation until the Forest Service has proven it
complies with environmental laws.
A representative of the Forest Service
said the agency doesn’t discuss pending litigation.
In a decision memorandum, the Forest
Service said the project was necessary to abate hazards from
frequently traveled routes through the forest.
The project aims to remove trees that
may eventually become dangerous to avoid multiple entries
into fire-damaged areas, the agency said. Seed trees will be
left standing in these areas to provide natural forest
The “categorical exclusion” for the
project is permitted as a post-fire rehabilitation activity
up to 4,200 acres and was recommended by an
interdisciplinary team of resource specialists, the agency
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