Controversial Thurston Hills area timber harvest blocked in court
A timber harvesting project on land near the Thurston Hills Natural Area being extended into cycle lanes was again blocked in court after a judge ruled on Friday that the Bureau of Land Management had failed executed the instructions issued by the judge in a previous trial.
An examining magistrate ruled on Friday in a second lawsuit filed by Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild, an Eugene-based nonprofit, that BLM did not take proactive steps to preserve trees along planned extensions of the cycle and hiking trails of the Willamalane Park and Recreation District on land managed by BLM.
Although the harvest controversy has largely focused on the risk of fire, the examining magistrate rejected Cascadia Wildlands’ arguments that BLM had failed to meet its obligations to investigate the risk of fire in the harvest area or having properly informed the public of these risks.
The magistrate’s decision is a provisional decision and not the last word on the project.
After:Decision stops timber harvest in Thurston Hills near Springfield
The association of 394 acres of BLM property with the Thurston Hills Natural Area began in 2017 with the federal agency seeking to balance trails and logging. In 2018, BLM released its first EA for developing 8 miles of trails and clearing 155 acres of woodland, reduced to 100 acres after criticism from environmental groups and others.
Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands filed a lawsuit in early 2019 to stop the harvest after BLM contracted with Seneca Sawmill Co. to conduct the harvest for around $ 1 million.
This lawsuit first stalled the project when U.S. District Judge Michael McShane ruled that BLM had failed to properly publicize the project’s potential impact on fire hazards for neighboring communities, or identify a buffer zone. wooded area required before logging begins.
McShane referred the issue to BLM, directing the federal agency to properly disclose likely increases in fire risk through an environmental assessment and to designate and preserve this buffer zone, known as the leisure management, before harvest.
BLM released the assessment in February 2020 and, after a period of public comment, said the project would have no significant environmental impact. The agency restarted the lumber sale process and Cascadia Wildlands protested, but they were again turned down.
Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild filed a second complaint last summer.
Cascadia Wildlands argued that BLM failed to follow McShane’s instructions to “designate and maintain a pre-harvest recreation management area.” Although BLM last May identified the trails and the recreation management area, Friday’s decision agreed that the agency had not taken “positive steps to significantly preserve the RMZ.”
Since BLM’s logging plan includes areas that would be the Recreation Management Area, US Magistrate Judge Mustafa Kasubhai issued an interim ruling that BLM had not done enough to preserve the area before. harvest, as McShane’s decision directed.
Kasubhai ruled in favor of BLM on the issue Cascadia Wildland raised about National Environmental Policy Act rules, such as the agency’s obligation to analyze fire hazards.
Kasubhai, in its final ruling, will return the case so that BLM can either remedy any problems with the project or overturn the ruling, said Sara Ghafouri, an attorney representing Seneca Sawmill Co. McShane will later adopt, modify or reject Kasubhai’s final ruling. .
Contact reporter Adam Duvernay at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @DuvernayOR.