OR: Federal judge puts McKenzie Bridge timber sale on hold

Hanging out in the Goose timber sale on the Willamette National Forest, Oregon. Photo by forester Roy Keene.
Hanging out in the Goose timber sale on the Willamette National Forest, Oregon. Photo by forester Roy Keene.

Previously, we’ve discussed and debated the Willamette National Forest’s proposed Goose timber sale, especially as it relates to the fact that many local residents in the McKenzie Bridge area of Oregon knew nothing of the Forest Service’s plans to log 7,600 logging trucks full of trees from what amounts to their neighborhood.

According to the Eugene Register Guard, a federal judge has put the McKenzie Bridge timber sale on hold, ordering the Forest Service to prepare an environmental impact statement.  At the end of the article you’ll notice that this logging project would reduce 13% of the Lookout Mountain Potential Wilderness Area, in a part of central Oregon that’s already heavily logged and roaded.  Besides, logging to reduce potential Wilderness is, like, so, late 70s/early 80s.  Hey Forest Service, get with 21st Century already.

A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Forest Service cannot go forward with a controversial logging project near McKenzie Bridge until an environmental impact statement has been prepared.

People living near the 2,100-acre Goose Project had opposed strongly the logging plans. They said there had been insufficient notice about the project and that they didn’t find out about it until it was too late for them to weigh in.

Cascadia Wildlands and Ore­gon Wild, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, filed a lawsuit last May challenging the project.

In a ruling dated Thursday and made available late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken said the timber sale could have a “potentially significant effect” on the environment. As a result, the Forest Service erred in choosing a less stringent environmental assessment, rather than a more demanding environmental impact statement, to assess the potential effects of harvesting an estimated 38 million board feet of lumber from federal land….

Aiken’s ruling will likely be embraced by McKenzie Bridge area residents who said they didn’t learn about the pending timber sale and harvest until last spring. Those residents had little recourse because they didn’t have legal standing to challenge the sale — unlike Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild, who did have such standing because they were the only parties to have appealed the project back when it was approved in 2010.

Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild said Tuesday that the ruling is a victory for local residents who will now have a much greater opportunity to be heard on the matter. That’s because an environmental impact statement requires greater public participation. “The public gets to comment, so that the decision-maker has the benefit of that information and can make a fully informed decision,” Heiken said.

Heiken said the Forest Service “had the chance to get it right a couple of times and stumbled.” The agency could have limited the proposed sale to the noncontroversial thinning of dense young timber stands, but instead opted to include the proposed logging of mature forests and logging near riparian areas, he said.

The agency again made a misstep when it decided against inviting public comment after local residents learned of the proposed sale last year, he said. “The Forest Service still had the discretion to do that and avoid this lawsuit,” he said….

Aiken said that the project would reduce the 9,664-acre Lookout Mountain Potential Wilderness Area by 1,249 acres — resulting in the harvesting of 680 acres of timberland and fragmenting an additional 569 acres from the rest of the potential wilderness area.  In addition to the number of acres logged, the project also would authorize the construction of eight miles of temporary roads and one mile of permanent road, the judge noted.

Here is the press release from the plaintiffs.

26 thoughts on “OR: Federal judge puts McKenzie Bridge timber sale on hold”

  1. This particular sale has been thoroughly reviewed by both the Forest Service and several other qualified people. The new Ranger has made every attempt to inform the public and consider all sound suggestions. The extremists have resorted to absurb measures to prevent what amounts to be a very sustainable and appropriate management action. They claim 4,000 letters of opposition – this was a social media scam that resulted in huge numbers of writers from across the US and Europe. It is absolutely shameful the way these challenges are literally destroying our National Forests. Abandoning sustainable management provided by Statute leads to massive wildfires, insect and disease, degraded wildlife habitat, destroyed fisheries and damaged watersheds. When will we ever learn?

    • Thanks for sharing your “old school” views with us Zane. You get extra points for your use of “extremists” “absurd measures” and “social media scam” plus an extra bonus of 5 points for claiming that these folks are “literally destroying our National Forests.”

      Also, funny – isn’t it – how when you re-read this article about the project you actually don’t hear from Europeans via social media, but you actually hear from local residents who 1) knew nothing of the project and 2) oppose the project strongly once they finally found out about it.

      • Matthew: Zane Smith was one of the finest Supervisors ever to serve on the Williamette National Forest. Your crude, sarcastic and mocking “humor” regarding his statements says more about you than it does about him or the topics at hand.

        There is a reason that so many “negative” neighbors suddenly opposed this sale — and there is nothing “funny” about it. This is another well documented political action by anti-logging nonprofits. To say that the 4,000 scammers (I think Zane used the word correctly) “knew nothing of the project” is probably an understatement. These people were mostly solicited to put political pressure on the USFS because of this sale (and others before it), and whether they “strongly opposed” the actual project or not is sheer conjecture on your part. I’m guessing most of them simply oppose logging or enjoy protesting and knew (and know) very little about the actual sale. Other than what they were instructed, of course.

        • Bob, you may have noticed by now that very often I respond to crude, sarcastic, mocking comments with my own sarcastic and mocking comments.

          In this case, it was Zane’s original comment that was littered with words such as “extremists” “absurd measures” and “social media scam”….so I responded in kind, and will continue to do so if the much esteemed (by your account) Mr. Smith doesn’t change his choice of words of sarcastic and mocking words.

          Reminds me of a few idioms and phrases….”Which came first…” Or perhaps, more appropriate for this discussion, “What’s good for the goose…”

    • I agree with your overall point, but in this case the judicial outcome seems to be primarily a result of the Forest Service reluctance to do EISes at the project level and relying on EAs instead. Arguing NEPA “significance” in defending an EA and a Finding of No Significant Impact in court is a longshot at best and provides the judge an “easy” procedural ruling as Judge Aiken did in this case. While news article indicates that the Forest prevailed on the substative biological and envionmental claims in the ruling, the EA “short-cut” proved fatal. It’s a shame seeing the Forest’s budget and taxpayers dollars having to be spent re-doing procedural steps.

      • Yes, but it’s equally a shame to do EIS’s where there are no significant impacts, or an EA where you could have used a CE.

        Really, it’s a judgement call about 1) what is following the NEPA regs and 2) are you going to be taken to court. NEPA significance is in the eye of the beholder.

        I’ve been involved in a couple of court assigned EIS’s and when the substantive claims stand in the EA, they tend to stand in the EIS. People outside of this small world might wonder why the extra analysis is valuable in and of itself and apart from any substantive biological and environmental claims.

        • NEPA significance is in the eye of the courts and NEPA case history regarding significance shows that proving the negative (non significance) is difficult. An EIS and Record of Decision doesn’t require a finding of non significance, simply disclosing the impacts of the decision and how/why it is consistent with existing plans, regulations and laws. When an EA gets to the size and complexity of Goose, writing an EIS generally doesn’t involve any extra analysis or writing, it just follows different procedures for notification/publication and different document formats. Perhaps FS officials tend to opt for EAs on larger projects because he or she doesn’t perceive themselves as doing some thing “significant” to the forest or doesn’t want to be perceived as approving projects with “potentially significant impacts” to the forest.

          • William, I have sat in many discussions with NEPA practitioners in the Forest Service, some of whom think “it’s not that much extra work” and some of whom think “it’s a lot of extra work.”
            Both CEQ and EPA say that there should be “more detailed evaluation” as here http://www.epa.gov/compliance/basics/nepa.html.

            However, maybe this EA is so detailed it doesn’t need more detail. Anyway, the last I remember the FS did more EIS’s than any other federal agency so I don’t think it’s that.

            In fact, if you look at the recent entries in the EIS database http://yosemite.epa.gov/oeca/webeis.nsf/viEIS01?OpenView, you find special use permit for outfitter guides a few rows up from the Keystone XL project.

            In fact, somewhere else on this blog I read something about EA’s being 2-3 years and EIS’s 4-5? Anyway, I think the easiest explanation for why folks do EA’s is that they think they are appropriate and take less time. If you do get litigated, you can back up and do an EIS, so it’s a judgment about risk.

            Also, when I worked in NEPA in DC, the FS did more EIS’s than (any other agency? my memory is a bit fuzzy, but it was a lot). I tried to look and find these data currently but couldn’t easily find them. Maybe some other folks can help.

        • Sharon :

          Yes, but it’s equally a shame to do EIS’s where there are no significant impacts, or an EA where you could have used a CE.

          “No significant impacts?”

          On a hefty 38 million board foot timber sale that covers 2,100 acres, builds almost 10 miles of temp roads and will require 7,200 logging trucks lined up end to end for 65 miles to just haul out all the logged trees? Oh, and reduces a potential Wilderness area by 13%?

          Man, have we lowered the bar with what amounts to a “significant impact” that much?

          • Each acre on the west side has many many board feet. Don’t see how that’s related to environmental impacts.
            Temp roads do have temporary impacts (until they’re closed up). I don’t see what impacts log trucks have when they’re on the highway. And when I look at the maps I see roads all over the area, with most of the units along the highway and existing system roads and many of them next to private land. And a potential wilderness area is in there somewhere with all those system roads?

            I looked at the map of the units here
            Excellent maps! This is really helpful, District Folks!

            • I don’t believe that impacts from the construction of temporary logging roads go away the minute the temporary logging roads are closed up. Also, I believe that driving 7,200 logging trucks up and down forest roads (over how many culverts and stream crossings?) does have a significant impact. I seriously doubt the 7,200 logging trucks are exclusively using federal and state highways, as you seem to infer. And why, with an area so full of all those system roads as you correctly point out, is are 8 miles of temporary logging reads even needed?

  2. Matthew, I’m glad you brought up Goose again.. an eagle-eyed and (elephant-memoried?) reader sent this announcement about the project from the McKenzie River Reflections, May 21, 2009. So it does sound like there was some public notice…

    goose 1

    • Sharon, there is nothing in the picture identifying it as coming from the McKenzie River Reflections. Perhaps it was in there, perhaps not. Does your reader have the identifying marks? If so, please re-post. And certainly send in the picture to the federal judge.

      Of course, the Eugene Register Guard previously wrote:

      “Not even the publisher of the local newspaper, the McKenzie River Reflections, had heard about it.”

      Also, I’d like to point out that the field trip was for a Tuesday morning at 9am. That’s certainly a tough time for a government field trip for all those in the general public who have to work and aren’t paid to be on the field trip.

      • Matt: We’re going to agree again. As a member of the public that used to attend such field trips and committee meetings, it always used to tick me off when these things were scheduled during work days. I would have to skip work — at some expense to my business and family — in order to attend these things and invariably found them larded with government employees and environmental activists. Maybe a few retired or unemployed people — but damn few actual workers and business owners. In gatherings of 20-30 people, I often found myself (and maybe one or two others) as the only actual members of the public able to afford to attend. Everybody else was busy helping to pay for the government workers and nonprofit reps. It was invariably an expensive and fruitless charade, so I quit going.

        • Thanks for sharing your accounts with this too, Bob. With the push towards “collaboration” (in all it’s various forms, functions and practices) I’m afraid that we’ll see more and more of this type of stuff in the future.

          What really bugs me (and should bug everyone else) is that when “collaborators” (who are paid to be at the table and paid to be on field trips, and often times get rental cars and hotels paid for to travel around big states like Montana) then turn around and complain publicly that so-and-so refused to participate in their “collaboration” because they couldn’t manage to get off work to travel a few hundreds miles to attend their mid-day, mid-week field trip.

      • I was trying to save space, I got it directly from the McKenzie River Reflections people themselves. Sigh.. all that extracting and cropping for nothing….
        Here is the issue of the Reflections..

        I guess the Eugene Register Guard could have gotten it wrong somehow, or the Reflections folks changed..

        I don’t mind sending it to the judge but don’t have his or her email. I’m fairly certain the lawyers have the clip, though.

        But as you said they “knew nothing of the project” is different from “couldn’t make a scheduled field trip.”

        • Despite the assertions that the FS did everything in it’s power to notify the community, they did so passively by placing an easy to miss add in the legal notices. The circulation of reflections is pretty minimal and the fact is, people have lives, they work, they have interests which do not include watching the FS and some of us only live in the area part time…notice did not reach our sight. When the FS wanted us to know that they were conducting a survey of the property lines, they took an active role and notified us by mail. We knew about that…we didn’t know about the Goose until late January 2012.

          Few of you responding here have walked this land, You assume you know the conditions on the ground, you don’t. This project was over ambitious and under discussed. The findings of no significant impact were highly subjective and biased and the judge did the right thing.

          The petition did draw some responses from distant folk but they have a right to be concerned as well. Net of those people, there were some 5000 people who chose to sign and asked not for the project to simply be cancelled but for fair and meaningful discussion by way of an EIS.

          The FS called a public meeting to tell us what they planned to do to us in March of 2012. They had no intention of making meaningful changes to the project, despite a good many objections. They chose to hold their ground, ignore the wishes of the community and spend a great deal of taxpayer money litigating rather than redesigning.

          You all feel strongly that you have the mandate to manage the forests in a way that suits the forest service’s goals. You do not have the power to ignore the people who own this land in the discharge of those duties. You have to listen and you have to bend, even if it’s to the breaking point.

          • Jerry, It sounds like they sent letters to 70 folks, published a notice in the local paper (not the legal notice, the piece in Reflections) which had a field trip..

            I’m not saying it was OK to miss people, but I am saying that putting notices in local papers and keeping a mailing list of local people who are interested are fairly traditional ways of notifying the public.. what would you recommend to add to their standard procedures, and to reach people, who only live in the area part time?

            Here is what they said they changed based on public comment.

            We have responded to the concerns raised by residents and made numerous adjustments to the project; including modifying the project near private property boundaries. We have also reviewed the analysis and believe the science is sound and that the project should continue. The project will thin crowded stands of trees and allow for the remaining trees to grow larger more quickly, as well as capture the economic value of the smaller trees being removed. The small gaps being created will provide forage habitat for deer, elk and other wildlife. The thinning near some streams will help the remaining trees grow larger more quickly; thus producing better conditions for wildlife and fish.

            Many of the concerns residents brought up at the March 2012 meeting were already addressed in the environmental assessment and decision for the project. Although we regret surprising some residents in 2012, many of the comments we received in the last few months we had heard previously and incorporated those concerns. We are also responding to new ideas and incorporating those ideas into our implementation plans wherever possible”

            I own property adjacent to National Forest, will my property be affected?You will be able to see the thinned units from the edge of your property boundary. However, immediately adjacent to your property, we will be ‘feathering’ our activity to minimize visual impact. Some of the specific mitigation measures include:

            The entire project focuses on leaving the largest trees;
            No trees greater than 36” diameter at breast height (dbh) will be cut within 350 feet of a private residential boundary;
            We are implementing a no harvest buffer around a maple grove in unit 420, as well as protections from harvest at other unique locations;
            There will be a 172 foot no harvest buffer around special interest areas in unit 380.


            What will be done about the concerns residents have about timing of log haul and speed of log truck traffic; especially on North Bank Road? Many comments and concerns were noted at the March 12th meeting. Restrictions that we can put on the contracts are:
            No holiday or weekend haul;
            No log haul on North Bank Road before 6:00 am or after 6:00 pm;
            No Jake brakes on North Bank Road.

            Another issue raised was the speed along North Bank Road. North Bank is a County road and outside of the scope of the timber sale contract. However, we will work with contractors and the County to define what is a ‘reasonable and prudent speed’ for this road. We will continue to work with the County throughout the project to address any issues that may arise. It is important to realize that not all of the sales will be using North Bank Road.

            /So It sounds like they changed some things.. what things did you want changed that they didn’t do?

            • These changes were a grain of sand, a patronizing insult. The project destroys 1200 acres of potential wilderness but at least the speed limit on North Bank road might be limited.

              • So Jerry, we can look at the map and see all the roads. Can you show us where the “potential wilderness” is?

                Does tree cutting plus temporary roads “destroy” potential wilderness? Because people have proposed roadless areas for sure where trees have been cut and temp roads removed, and wilderness where trees have been cut and grazing continues.. etc.

                So what would it take for you to be happy with the project? Leave out that unit?

                • It has nothing to do with what makes me happy, this is a community effort and this project needs to reflect grass roots considerations. At 38 MBF, it is over ambitious and under discussed. That said, I would certainly think that eliminating the PWA from the project would make a lot of people a lot happier, me included.

      • Also, there is this handy site for those curious..nice work in terms of telling the story, including photos of the units!

        How was the public informed about the project? The project was first announced in April, 2009 using the Ranger District’s standard outreach process: approximately 70 letters were sent to folks on the mailing list, the project notice was put on the web, and a legal advertisement was placed in the Eugene Register Guard, the official paper of record. Additionally, in June, a field trip was offered and 15 members of the community attended that event. Once the initial project design and analysis was complete, a notice in the Eugene Register Guard let folks know that the Draft Environmental Assessment was open for 30 day public review. Upon learning in 2012 that some landowners were surprised to learn about the project, the District Ranger immediately held a public meeting where approximately 110 community members attended.

  3. Also found this on the Willamette NF site:

    Decision Notice (PDF 748kb)
    Signed September 13, 2010 The Decision Notice was posted in the newspaper of record (Register Guard) on 9/17/10 and the 45-day Appeal period ends COB November 1, 2010.

    BTW, the decision notice includes details about public notice up until then:

    Public involvement for the Goose project began on June 2, 2009, when the McKenzie River Ranger District presented initial project ideas to the public on a field trip. The public field trip was focused on gathering public opinion on potential management activities in the project area. A relatively broad cross-section of the local public attended the field trip, stirring thought provoking and productive discussion. The Goose Project proposed action and alternatives incorporated many of the comments from this field trip.

    The proposal was listed in the Schedule of Proposed Actions on October 1, 2009. Postcards were sent to our normal public mailing list in November of 2009 describing the project proposal. Comments from the public were requested by December 7th to be most useful in the analysis.
    Comments were received by Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, American Forest Resource Council, Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Eugene Skrine and Valerie Rapp, and Galen and Charlene Phipps. The interdisciplinary team reviewed all comments and incorporated the concerns into the

    On July 23, 2010, the Goose Environmental Assessment (EA) was made available to the public and other agencies for a 30-day public review and comment period in accordance with 36 CFR 215. There were six individual comment letters received. All comments were reviewed and discussed by appropriate resource specialists and officials. A limited summary of these comments and the Forest Service responses to parts of those comments are presented in the attached Appendix D.

    • Thanks, Steve, this certainly sounds different than portrayed in the Register-Guard perhaps the Register-Guard folks were grumpy as the “small print ” of the legal notice did not add enough to their coffers.. really I’m just kidding. Is anyone contesting the public participation actions as described above? Or was it not considered to be enough for some reason?

  4. I missed copy-and-pasting a line from the decision notice in the 2nd to last paragraph:

    issues where applicable. A summary of scoping input and the Forest Service responses are located in Appendix F of the EA.

    Also, it may be useful to review this:

    The purpose of this project is to 1) Actively manage stands to improve stand conditions, diversity, density, and structure, 2) Reduce hazardous fuel levels in the McKenzie Bridge Wildland-Urban Interface; 3) Provide for a sustainable supply of timber products within the Goose project area boundary. The Environmental Assessment (EA) describes the purpose and need in more detail on pages 3-5.

    Actions Are Needed To:
    • Actively manage stands to improve stand conditions, diversity, density, and structure;
    • Increase stand health and vigor;
    • Increase the amount of early seral habitat;
    • Increase the potential for Riparian Reserves to function as late successional habitat;
    • Reduce hazardous fuels in the McKenzie Bridge Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI);
    • Provide for a sustainable supply of timber products within the Goose Project boundary


Leave a Comment