Forest Service: Road work followed policy

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest may have violated a federal judge’s order to provide a public comment period and appeals process before approving road construction projects through public lands.

Three days after the ruling Sept. 16, the Forest Service gave permission for the construction of a 730-foot-long road through public forestland in the Grayback Creek watershed to access private land owned by Perpetua Forest Co. The watershed is located near the Oregon Caves National Monument.

The road was completed Wednesday.

"This is the third illegal logging operation on the Siskiyou National Forest in the last year," said attorney Erin Madden of the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, referring to Forest Service mistakes that led to logging in the Babyfoot Lake Botanical Reserve and the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

"Such behavior by an agency that is supposed to be a steward of public land is inexcusable."

But Forest Service officials said there is no comparison between the logging mistakes and the routine construction of a road.

Officials said the permit process for the road had been in the works for two years, and the ruling was not effective until Wednesday.

"The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest was following existing agency directives," said spokeswoman Patty Burel. "The decision was made before the ruling was effective."

In July, federal District Judge James Singleton Jr. in the Eastern District of California ruled the Forest Service’s policy of excluding certain projects from public disclosure, comment and an appeal process is invalid. Forest Service officials argued the ruling only applied to the Eastern District of California.

But on Sept. 16, the judge issued an order clarifying that the ruling applied nationwide.

Officials with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest said the way future road projects will be addressed will depend on what direction they get from the Forest Service regarding the court order.

Activists with Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and the Cave Junction-based Siskiyou Regional Education Project said they worry the road will cause erosion and the release of sediment into Grayback Creek, habitat for endangered salmon and steelhead.

However, Forest Service officials said they determined the road will have almost no environmental impact.

Wildlands, ForestsBraith Birchhall