Pair of Owls Used to Challenge Oregon Timber Sale

EUGENE, Oregon, October 15, 2010 (ENS) – Two conservation organizations filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to block a timber sale in the Willamette National Forest above the McKenzie River, which would log 157 acres of mature and old-growth forest.

The legal challenge by Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild turns on new research showing that a pair of federally threatened northern spotted owls has taken up residence in the vicinity of the timber sale.

The U.S. Forest Service first proposed the timber sale in 1998 and the conservation groups claim the agency has failed to address new information about the owls and their prey species that has come to light since 2003 when the agency issued its decision to log the area.

Large, old trees on the Trapper timber sale in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest (Photo courtesy Western Environmental Law Center)

In addition, the McKenzie River is the sole source of municipal drinking water for Eugene, Oregon’s second largest city with a population of about 155,000. The plaintiff groups fear that logging the timber sale would degrade Eugene’s drinking water quality.

“The McKenzie is Eugene’s backyard recreation paradise,” says Kate Ritley, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands.

“The McKenzie’s forests filter our drinking water and shelter all kinds of wildlife,” Ritley said. “We need to protect these precious forests for future generations, not destroy them for short-term profits.”

The conservationists point to new research showing that, as a species, the northern spotted owl is on a downward population trend both range-wide and in a large study area that encompasses the logging project, known as the Trapper timber sale.

They say the Forest Service logging plan fails to protect dozens of red tree vole nests located in the project area. A major food source for the northern spotted owl, the red tree vole is a small mammal that lives in older conifer forests.

Twice in the past, Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild have successfully challenged the species impacts opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the Trapper timber sale.

The Service was found to have illegally issued opinions that would have allowed the Trapper timber sale to proceed despite negative effects to threatened wildlife.

“It is past time the Forest Service retire this reckless project for good,” says Doug Heiken, conservation and restoration coordinator with Oregon Wild. “The agency has a choice between logging mature and old-growth forests on public lands above our treasured McKenzie River or identifying common sense projects that benefit wildlife, protect the forest, and create jobs. It should be an easy choice.”

The groups say they believe the Forest Service should be spending taxpayer dollars on projects that restore degraded landscapes, like restoration thinning in tree plantations formed by past clearcutting, decommissioning harmful roads, and enhancing fish and wildlife habitat.

The groups have offered to work with the Forest Service and the purchaser of the Trapper timber sale, Seneca Sawmill based in Eugene, to find replacement timber volume from less controversial areas.

Although in the past, the Willamette National Forest has provided replacement volume to timber companies for controversial timber sales, the groups say Seneca Sawmill has not expressed any interest in this option.

Seneca Sawmill’s partner company, Seneca Jones Timber, owns a 165,000-acre tree farm in western Oregon which is the primary supplier of the raw material for Seneca’s two sawmills, and is certified under the nonprofit Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

In January, after an 18-month public review, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative revised its certification requirements to improve conservation of biodiversity in North America and offshore, and address emerging issues such as climate change and bioenergy.

More than 180 million acres are certified to the SFI forest management standard in North America – making it the largest single standard in the world. SFI is governed by a three-chamber board of directors representing environmental, social and economic sectors equally.

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