Species report stalls logging

A federal court judge ruled insufficient a U.S. Bureau of Land Management environmental assessment for the Scattered Apples timber sale in Williams.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael R. Hogan in Eugene concluded the BLM document failed to satisfy the National Environmental Policy Act’s "hard look" requirement on spotted owls and their habitat, on soils and water, on fisheries and on the aesthetic impact of helicopter yarding in the area.

Hogan granted a preliminary injunction requested by the plaintiffs to block logging until a final judgment is made. Logging has yet to begin on the 3.7-million-board-foot timber sale, which the BLM has described as commercial thinning to reduce fire hazard and improve forest health.

He also ordered the plaintiffs to submit a response to the injunction order within 14 days. The BLM then has 10 days to respond to the plaintiff’s comments.

The lawsuit, filed early this year by Williams residents, the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildland Center (KSWC) and the Siskiyou Regional Education Project, had charged that the sale violates NEPA rules.

However, the BLM’s Medford District wasn’t notified of the Dec. 20 ruling until Wednesday.

"We’re currently working with our attorneys to assess our options," district spokeswoman Karen Gillespie said Thursday. "We may develop proposed remedies to the ruling and submit those to the judge for review."

George Sexton, conservation director for KSWC, says the issue is tree diameter.

"We would have never come to this point had the BLM not insisted on including large-diameter trees in the project," he said. "As long as they keep coming up with small-diameter sales that are paying for it on the backs of large-diameter, fire-resistant trees, they are going to keep losing."

The plaintiffs are opposed to what they say are large, mature trees included in the cut.

However, BLM officials say the average diameter tree to be cut is 12.6 inches with very few trees greater than 24 inches in diameter.

A group of Williams residents had submitted an alternative in 1998, which called for concentrating on restoring stands that had been logged years ago.

The BLM sold the sale to the Glendale-based Swanson Group Inc.