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Conflict in the 9th Circuit Threatens Old Growth Forests

Letter to the editor.

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This fall, the 9th Circuit issued its final decision and reversed an earlier ruling by Judge Hogan in Eugene, Oregon, on a large old-growth timber sale in the Deschutes National Forest. Local citizens and volunteers with the Sierra Club, Cascadia Wildlands Project and the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project spent years field- checking the sale.

The citizens tried to approach the Forest Service to change the controversial plan, but the agency moved ahead.  Judge Hogan found that the agency's logging plan would degrade this forest for decades and that the agency's claim that the logging would reduce fire risk was not supported by the scientific evidence in the record.

In a split decision, two judges reversed while one – Judge Paez – wrote a scathing and lengthy dissent chastising his colleagues for giving the agency a blank check to log in these old-growth forests.

The Forest Service will aggressively log this sensitive spotted owl habitat and remove many large old growth trees.  The agency claims the plan would save the owl habitat from wildfire although the Forest Service itself admits that these forests would no longer be suitable Spotted owl habitat after logging.  The Five Buttes area is a majestic old growth forest near Davis Lake and Wickiup Reservoir, an area that many people visit for recreational purposes.

The logging project targets some of the most diverse old-growth forests I have ever seen in the Pacific Northwest. The area contains old-growth Shasta red fir, old growth sugar pine, old growth white pine and Douglas fir, and grand fir.

The Spotted owl has been in steady decline on the District and this elimination of significant nesting and roosting habitat is likely to drive the species further toward extinction.

The 9th Circuit remains split over the issue, and this likely means that the Forest Service will try to take advantage of the discord and target other large, fire-resistant old-growth trees in the name of reducing wildfire risk.

Under the Northwest Forest Plan, the agency is not supposed to log in Late Successional Reserves except in rare circumstances. These forests were set aside for endangered spotted owl protection.

Endangered species protection ensures the viability of many other species with similar habitat needs and ultimately our own protection, since forest reduction hastens climate change and makes its effects more catastrophic for biodiversity, community stability, local economies, and social justice.

– Karen Coulter, Director

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project

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